Who is afraid of Shahbaz Sharif?

A lot of very important people, apparently.

Shahbaz Sharif, erstwhile chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province and brother of the exiled Nawaz Sharif was well regarded during his term of office, before it was abruptly cut short by Musharraf’s coup in 1999. He went into lavish exile in London.

News about his impending arrival has galvanised Musharraf and his political cronies into unparalleled action. As the press traces Shahbaz’s every single step on his long journey back, the ruling party has started going into convulsions. Last week, Lahore airport was put on a high-alert the timing of which coincided suspiciously with Shahbaz Sharif’s ETA. It was later clarified that there was an attempted hijacking; one man was arrested when he walked up to the cockpit to tell the pilot to fly faster. And Elvis lives.

Neither Jamali, the prime minister nor Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the political kingmaker can match the charisma and popular support commanded by the Sharifs. This makes the ruling clique dispensable and the first likely casualties in any real move towards true democracy. So far only Musharraf’s visceral hatred for the Sharifs and the Bhuttos has stood between bigwigs of the ruling party and certain political extinction.

That Musharraf has put the city of Lahore under seige with police cracking down on suspected Sharif supporters is testimony how much he fears democratic forces. Even CNN’s Lahore unit was not spared. What Shahbaz Sharif can or will do is unclear – but his arrival has put Pakistani politics in a tailspin.