Former Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif said Thursday he would return home from exile on Sept. 10 to challenge President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's plans to extend his rule.
Sharif told reporters in London that he would return to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, shortly before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and return to his power base in the country's east.
"Inshallah (God willing), it will be on the 10th of September that we will land in Islamabad and go to Lahore by road," Sharif said.
The announcement comes a day after Benazir Bhutto, another exiled former premier and Sharif's rival, said she was progressing toward an agreement with Musharraf that could see them share power.
Bhutto claimed Musharraf had agreed to step down as head of the army, ending military rule eight years after the general ousted Sharif in a bloodless coup.
The Supreme Court ruled last week that the conservative, secularist Sharif, who has been in exile since 2000, and his politician brother could return to Pakistan.
However, government officials have said that Sharif, who has denounced Musharraf as a dictator, could be re-arrested upon reaching Pakistani soil on charges dating to the 1999 coup.
Musharraf had vowed to prevent both Bhutto and Sharif from entering Pakistan again, blaming them for corruption and economic problems that nearly bankrupted the country in the 1990s, when each had two turns as prime minister.
With Musharraf's support collapsing, his allies have encouraged him to strike an alliance with Bhutto and her moderate Pakistan People's Party so he can be re-elected as a strong civilian president backed by a friendly parliament _ avoiding a repeat of the chaos of the 1990s when Sharif and Bhutto jostled for power.
But Sharif's return would throw Musharraf's re-election chances in doubt. His Muslim League-Qaid Party and its allies dominate all but one of the country's assemblies, making Sharif's election as prime minister very likely and opening the way for Sharif to challenge Musharraf's constitutional authority in the courts.
The animosity between Sharif and Bhutto was intense before the army's coup, but in exile they became allies in the fight to restore democracy. But their friendship ended when Bhutto entered talks with Musharraf.