Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally been allowed to leave the country to receive medical treatment in London. He is serving a prison sentence for corruption, and was previously barred from travelling abroad, until the Lahore High Court lifted the ban on Saturday, 16 November, and the government rubber-stamped the decision on Monday, 19 November.
A year ago on 13 July, Nawaz Sharif left his ailing wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz in London and returned to Pakistan along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif to court arrest, right on the eve of the national election. An accountability court in the Avenfield case convicted him on 6 July last year. Three months later, the Islamabad High Court suspended the conviction, and later, the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld the suspension. Nawaz Sharif however, was arrested again, as he was convicted again by an accountability court in the Al-Azizia case, but acquitted in the Flagship case on 24 December last year.
Why Nawaz Sharif Couldn’t Fly Out of Pakistan
This year on 6 July, Maryam Nawaz Sharif released multiple video clips of Judge Arshad Malik — who convicted them — admitting for the first time that he was blackmailed and pressurised by the powerful quarters to give the verdict against the former premier. While the judge was removed, the former premier remained in jail. Before Nawaz Sharif could get any relief from the superior courts in this case, he was arrested again by the NAB, the accountability outfit, on 11 October in the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, which many pundits dub as an effort to keep him incarcerated, in case he was released in the lone Al-Azizia case owing to the video scandal.
This is where things took an ugly turn.
Within ten days, his condition worsened. On 21 October, he was shifted from the accountability outfit detention facility to the Services Hospital in Lahore. Despite his multiple pre-exisiting ailments, this time around, a curious disease (resembling the symptoms of the late Yasser Arafat) came to the fore. Nawaz Sharif’s son Hussain Nawaz, who too has been hounded in cases but refused to return to Pakistan and lives overseas, raised the alarm that the former prime minister may have been poisoned.
Four days later, the Lahore High Court granted bail to the ailing premier and allowed him to seek the medical treatment of his choice anywhere in the world.
Two days later, on 27 October, the Islamabad High Court granted Nawaz Sharif an interim bail in the last Al-Azizia case, and two days later, confirmed his bail on medical grounds with no conditions attached.
Despite this, Nawaz Sharif could not fly out as the Imran Khan government —soon after getting installed in August last year — put Nawaz Sharif and his many family members on the Exit Control List, to prevent them from leaving the country.
Nawaz Sharif’s Health Deteriorates, Pakistan Politics Gets More Divisive
As Nawaz Sharif’s health deteriorated, the country became further polarised. While thousands of the protesters of the opposition party JUI-F of Maulana Fazal Rehman demanded the resignation of Imran Khan and the holding of fresh polls in the national capital, the demands for letting Nawaz Sharif go abroad for medical treatment grew louder.
Imran Khan’s Cabinet members gave conflicting statements, with some supporting the demands to let the former premier go, and others mocking his illness and making nasty comments.
The Imran administration sat on it for 14 days, and on 13 November, it finally came up with a novel idea. The law minister Farogh Nasim — who belongs to MQM and was a former attorney representing military dictator Pervez Musharraf —demanded indemnity bonds worth a whopping Rs 7.5 billion, before the former premier was allowed to go abroad for four weeks.
The magical figure was the combination of fines imposed by the courts in the sentences, some of which were already suspended or already challenged by the former premier, and pending in higher courts.
That is where the new conflict began. The wisdom behind the new condition of the bonds was that Imran Khan wanted to reinforce his anti-corruption mantra. The party of the former premier smelt the rat. If we submit the bonds, Imran administration will claim that Nawaz Sharif has admitted his guilt and is now paying the fines. The party leaders said: ‘If Nawaz Sharif goes after submitting the bonds and returns after treatment, Imran administration will say that Nawaz Sharif has returned just because he doesn’t want to surrender the amount to the authorities.’
How Nawaz Sharif Finally Made His Exit
Former Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed and a senior leader of the party narrated the account when Nawaz Sharif heard about the demand of the indemnity bonds. “He was ill and didn’t speak much, but he told his brother Shehbaz Sharif in Punjabi, ‘Ay Naeen Karna’ (Won’t do that!).”
Finally, the Lahore High Court was approached again. On Saturday, 16 November, the court threw out the indemnity bonds condition set by the Imran government, and allowed Nawaz Sharif to travel abroad to seek medical treatment.
Though Nawaz Sharif is supposed to return after four weeks, the court made it conditional with his recovery and verification by his doctors.
495 days after he landed in Pakistan from London, Nawaz Sharif departed to London again. Last time, he had left London leaving his sick wife on her deathbed, for court arrest. His wife Kulsoom Nawaz died in London two months later, while he and his heir apparent Maryam Nawaz Sharif were both in jail. This time around, he has left his daughter in Pakistan, who too was arrested in August right in front of her incarcerated father, when she went to see him in jail by the accountability outfit.
Will Maryam Nawaz Take On the Mantle of Her Father?
Maryam Nawaz Sharif was out on bail soon after her father’s bail grant, but she is still quiet. The last time she tweeted was way back in August. We don’t know what her plans are, but she would very much like to take a little break and help her ailing father.
Whether or not she’ll move the courts to get permission to go abroad, is still unclear. Many in Islamabad believe that the Imran Khan administration and his powerful backers will be elated if she departs and doesn’t come back for a few years, to give respite to the administration. After Nawaz Sharif, she is the only crowd-puller in his party.
Given her strong views against the security establishment, the powerful quarters would very much like for her to leave the political space.
Maryam’s departure would benefit her uncle Shehbaz Sharif — known for his soft corner for the establishment — and allow him to take full control of the party.
If Maryam chooses to stay, whether or not she will remain quiet or resume political activity is not clear. What is clear is that if she chooses to stay back in Pakistan, she will not help settle the current administration, and might act just like Benazir Bhutto, who asked her mother Nusrat Bhutto in the 90s, to fully take over the party. Will the Muslim League N(awaz) become Muslim League (M)aryam, is yet to be known.
(Murtaza Solangi is a broadcast journalist based in Islamabad, and is a former Director General of Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation. He tweets @murtazasolangi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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