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Monday May 27, 2024

A flight home?

By Editorial Board
September 03, 2020

The Islamabad High Court, in its decision announced on Tuesday, has ordered PML-N head Nawaz Sharif to return to the country and face charges against him in the Al Azizia reference case, or else be prepared to be declared an absconder. This development comes months after Sharif was permitted to leave the country late last year for an eight-week period, by the Lahore High Court on the grounds of his ill health and the complicated condition he suffered. Doctors in Lahore had said at the time that he should be sent overseas so that he could be properly diagnosed and treated. The agreement reached at the time had said the former prime minister would return to the country once his health had been restored. His brother Shahbaz Sharif had assured the court he would guarantee his return.

The return has not happened and there is now a risk that Nawaz Sharif could be declared an absconder. His lawyers are arguing against the decision and have said they will place the relevant medical reports before the court within the next few days. What these reports say may determine what decision is finally made by the Islamabad High Court. Nawaz's daughter, Maryam Nawaz, has also spoken out and asked how a judgement made by a judge who has now been removed from office could stand and why her father was still facing a case in the matter. These are all factors which stand outside the political future of Nawaz Sharif. There is also the usual talk revolving around the much-played-up difference in approach and ideology between the older Sharif and his brother, with Maryam Nawaz seen as the vocal proponent of the 'Nawaz camp'.

What happens next is relevant for Pakistan's politics and for the future of a party that by all signs still commands huge popular appeal across the country, notably in Punjab. Observers believe it is unlikely that Nawaz Sharif will agree to return to the country at this time at least. Although it has been pointed out by analysts that he had done just so before as well, leaving his wife Kulsoom Nawaz at a time when she was critically ill, and returned home with his daughter to face references against him. It is doubtful whether his mass appeal will diminish if he doesn't rush back, which is why the government will need to weigh its options carefully. For now, the attorney general, and lawyers for NAB, say they are gathering relevant medical evidence to ascertain precisely what his condition is at the present time to place before the court. We seem to be in for a repeat of medical reports and assertions – and counter-assertions.