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November 6, 2020

Pak govt refuses to accept UK’s deportees’ flight

National

November 6, 2020

LONDON: Pakistan refused to accept a chartered flight of around three dozen deportees from London three weeks ago. The flight to Islamabad on October 20 was not given clearance at the last minute by the Pakistan government and the UK authorities were left with no choice but to take the detainees back to their detention centres.

Is there more to this step than meets the eye? A source in the UK government told this reporter that Pakistani officials had cancelled the flight of deportees to send a message to the UK government: that cooperation will be withdrawn if the UK did not accede to certain demands, including those concerning Nawaz Sharif.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s advisor on Interior and accountability Shahzad Akbar confirmed to this correspondent that the flight was not given clearance but he strongly denied that the cancellation of the flight carrying deportees was linked to the Nawaz Sharif issue.

Shahzad Akbar clarified that flights carrying deportees will be allowed “after confirmation of documentations and following due protocols”. He added: “We are seeking the deportation of Mian Nawaz Sharif on principle but it is not linked to any other bilateral issue between the two countries.”

Another minister from PM Imran Khan’s cabinet, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the flight from London to Islamabad was not given clearance because it had “not complied with Standard Operating Procedures”. A third source linked to the government said the flight was stopped because the UK government had not carried out Corona tests on the deportees. He said the UK government should have arranged tests prior to the flight.

A source in the UK government said the story about Covid tests was not correct. The third source didn’t clarify what the procedures were and why similar flights in similar circumstances were allowed to land in Pakistan without any issue since the PTI government came to power and especially since the implementation of mandatory Covid test rules for flights landing in Pakistan.

This reporter has learnt from reliable sources, both within the Pakistan and UK governments, that some friction in the otherwise smooth relations between the two countries has been evident in recent weeks after the Pakistan government publicly made demands from UK to extradite, expel or deport former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

A source in London shared that the Pakistan government has usually sent letters to the Home Office through the usual channels but earlier in October a letter was sent to Home Secretary Priti Patel through the British High Commissioner in Islamabad making certain demands. According to sources, the letter said the home secretary was “duty bound” to deport Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan. The source said that British diplomats have felt uneasy over this matter as the UK government believes it is being dragged into Pakistani politics unnecessarily.

Pakistan, incidentally, does not have an extradition treaty with the UK. However, the UK government has been regularly repatriating illegal immigrants to Pakistan under the EU Readmission Agreement (Eura). The agreement was signed during the tenure of the PPP government and was further strengthened during the PML-N government under the then interior minister Chaudhry Nisar.