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November 18, 2019

Nawaz Sharif’s departure abroad for treatment: Who gained what in 10 grueling days with ex-PM’s health deteriorating?


November 18, 2019

ISLAMABAD: At least ten days, which were very valuable for seriously ill deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif to get urgent treatment of his choice doctors abroad for his multiple diseases, were lost in clearing the way for him to fly out of Pakistan.

Related: ‘LHC conditions tougher than govt’s’

This period saw a taxing political and judicial battle between the government and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Ultimately the Lahore High Court (LHC) settled it, removing all hurdles in the ex-premier’s path to rush out of Pakistan, trashing the illegal condition of Rs7.5 billion indemnity bond.

In this fracas, political considerations and narratives unfortunately took precedence over Nawaz Sharif’s critical health with every side keen to down each other and gain something. However, the government faced immense embarrassment as the LHC judgment shot down its stand and accepted the stance taken by the PML-N.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s preference was to get the indemnity bond to satisfy his supporters and argue subsequently that he squeezed a confession from Nawaz Sharif of having admitted “corruption”. He wanted the document despite the fact that no convicting judgment against Nawaz Sharif that entailed financial implications of this much amount has attained finality.

Related: History and facts about air ambulances

The PML-N apprehended that the indemnity bond would be used by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to hammer the Sharifs and PML-N, asserting that the former premier committed corruption and conceded it by submitting this paper. Under no circumstances, it was not prepared to accept the condition.

Moments after PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif filed the request to cancel the party supremo’s name from the Exit Control List (ECL), the prime minister’s chief aide Naeemul Haq, who doesn’t publicly utter a single worm without the approval and consent of his boss, quickly announced that it has been decided to permit Nawaz Sharif to proceed abroad for treatment on humanitarian grounds in view of his grave health. Imran Khan also stated that the government would cancel the ex-premier’s name from the ECL.

There was no mention of any condition like indemnity bond in these remarks. However, a couple of federal ministers openly opposed grant of unconditional permission to Nawaz Sharif. They ultimately prevailed and the condition of bond was brought in. This spoiled the entire atmosphere, earlier created by the statements of the premier and Naeemul Haq and fueled a deafening controversy as the PML-N instantly turned down this stipulation.

In the meantime, pressure was built on the government by its coalition allies particularly the PML-Q to do away with the requirement of bond. Also, top lawyers unanimously spurned the conditionality. A universal opinion was aired that the document is devoid of legal and constitutional backing and was unheard of because the executive can’t act as a court. The LHC upheld this well-considered opinion.

Now when the LHC has allowed Nawaz Sharif to fly abroad, dismissing the requirement of bond, questions arise as to what the government lost or gained in this 10-day long interlude.

It is time for introspection to ascertain why this situation emerged and who is responsible for it.

Legal experts say the indemnity bond was not going to automatically lead to recovery of Rs7.5 billion in case of its breach, and a long-drawn judicial process, spread over years, was needed for its implementation. In this sense, it had no relevance except dire political ramifications for the Sharifs and advantageous for the PTI.

On the other hand, the undertaking given by Shahbaz Sharif is a legal document and later prepared by the judges and is easily enforceable. The PML-N chief did not commit anything unusual. It is understandable that Nawaz Sharif will undoubtedly return to Pakistan after recuperation and following his doctors’ certificate that he has been treated as necessitated.

However, in the absence of this affidavit (or even indemnity bond), courts have abundant powers to ensure that anybody flouting their orders is sternly punished by employing different legal tools like confiscation of property, dismissal of appeals resulting in the upholding of the accountability courts’ judgments against him without any hearings etc. Considering this view, the undertaking is just an additional document of what is already provided in the law.

The PML-N can now claim that it has got relief from the court, while the government put unacceptable conditions, in ridding of the impediments in Nawaz Sharif’s way of getting foreign treatment. It is not beholden to the government. Conversely, the government can assert that it took a decision and stuck to it despite several calls to review it, and that it can’t be blamed if the former premier doesn’t come back.

The official slogan that the government will recover each and every penny of “plundered” money and will not give NRO (amnesty) to any looter, and that is why it attached the requirement of indemnity bond is dented after the LHC disregarded its condition. In the process, political acrimony touched its zenith.

The LHC granted bail to Nawaz Sharif on Oct 25 in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills investigations being conducted by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which held him in custody at the time. On Oct 29, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) gave him bail for eight weeks for treatment in the conviction imposed by an accountability court. Now, forty-one days of bail period are left to exhaust. After their expiry, according to the IHC order, Nawaz Sharif may approach the Punjab government for its extension, which will not act whimsically and arbitrarily otherwise the accused can go to court.

In this striking period, Nawaz Sharif showed a rare courage and stamina not to bow to any condition and made it clear that he would not go abroad if such demand was made. Before that, he consistently refused to proceed to Britain for treatment and insisted that he would avail of services of doctors in Pakistan. The family pressure forced him to change his mind.