The government on Tuesday decided ‘in principle’ to allow ailing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to fly abroad for treatment on condition that he will submit surety bonds guaranteeing his return to the country after his recovery. However, Nawaz’s party rejected the condition.
The federal cabinet in its meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan deliberated on the proposal of removing the former PM’s name from the no-fly list – Exit Control List (ECL) – to allow him to fly to London for treatment of a debilitating heath condition.
The meeting was convened after the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) – which was the prosecutor in the case in which Nawaz was convicted in Dec 2018 – refused to grant him permission, arguing that it was prerogative of the interior ministry to remove any name from the ECL.
According to Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, who spoke to the media after the cabinet meeting, the government later agreed in principle to allow Nawaz to go abroad.
“[However, it was decided that] it would be one-time approval on submission of indemnity bonds by the Sharif family or the fine imposed by courts in the cases filed against Nawaz by NAB,” she said.
Dr Firdous said some cabinet members had reservations over permitting Nawaz – who is serving seven-year prison term after his conviction in a NAB case – to go abroad on medical grounds.
“However, Prime Minister Imran Khan considered the request of Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif on humanitarian grounds and gave his approval while also considering majority members’ support.
“It would be a conditional and time-barred relief and a proposal containing parameters and criteria for Nawaz’s return to the country after his treatment abroad have been sent to the Sharif family,” she said.
The special assistant said the cabinet considered the opinion of NAB, point of view of the law minister and the legal precedents. “The government is providing the best treatment facilities to Nawaz. The PM is dealing with the matter on the ground of human empathy rather than politics,” she said.
Most cabinet members oppose Nawaz flying abroad
However, Nawaz’s party – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – later announced against submitting any surety bond in return for granting permission to Nawaz to go abroad.
PML-N leader Ata Tarar said the former PM had already submitted surety bonds in the court and now there was no need to submit further sureties. According to sources, the former ruling party would not submit any bond as it believed that such bonds would later be used against the PML-N.
“If the government cannot guarantee life, how can we guarantee Nawaz’s health? The PML-N will approach the court against the cabinet’s decision,” said a source.
The source claimed that the party had earlier in the day decided not to concede to the condition of surety bond, saying if the PML-N agreed to give a surety bond, the government would claim that it had extracted the allegedly looted money from the Sharif family.
“Secondly, if Nawaz returns within the stipulated time period, the government would claim that Nawaz wanted to stay abroad but came back for his looted money. Both the situations would damage the party’s position,” he said.
The source said they also could not guarantee that Nawaz would recover in eight weeks.
“If the government cannot give any guarantee of life and health, how can we give any such guarantee? The party hopes and prays for Nawaz’s good health but it would not accept any such illegal conditions placed by the government.
“The very purpose of placing these conditions is to malign the PML-N in the long run. The party too is under immense pressure given Nawaz’s deteriorating health and is assessing all available options, including approaching the court,” he added.
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif reportedly also met with Nawaz at Jati Umrah to discuss the ongoing ECL issue. Both leaders also discussed the available legal options with family members to ensure Nawaz’s departure to London.
A senior PML-N leader, however, said no surety bound would be submitted but the party leadership might give ‘written intention’ that Nawaz will return home after medical treatment.
He expected that the government would remove Nawaz’s name today (Wednesday). “They just want safe exit from prevailing situation which is created by immature PTI ministers,” he added.
Meanwhile, a sub-committee meeting – chaired by Law Minister Farogh Naseem – which was to decide modalities and legal aspects of the permission did not announced its decision after consultations that continued till late Tuesday night. Another meeting would be held today (Wednesday) at 10am.
Talking to the media after the sub-committee meeting, Naseem said the panel would decide on merit. He said the panel would present its recommendations to the federal cabinet today (Wednesday).
Cabinet’s three conditions
According to sources, most cabinet members during their meeting on Tuesday opposed granting unconditional permission to the former prime minister to travel abroad for medical treatment.
A cabinet member told The Express Tribune that the majority were against allowing the ailing 69-year-old politician to fly abroad without imposing any conditions as it would be a “complete defeat of the government’s accountability narrative”.
However, members belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) supported the idea of facilitating Nawaz’s departure. After the meeting that lasted for over two hours, the cabinet decided to grant the Sharif family patriarch conditional permission to travel abroad.
It is learnt that three conditions have been proposed: i) the former premier should submit surety bonds; ii) approach the court for a no-objection certificate (NOC) to fly abroad; and iii) the Sharif family must give adequate assurances that Nawaz would return to the country after treatment.
The cabinet member, who belongs to the PTI, disclosed that Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid himself opposed granting unconditional permission to Nawaz despite telling the media that the majority of the cabinet members were in favour of allowing the ailing politician to leave.
Political analysts are wondering as to how the cabinet gave the nod to Nawaz’s departure when the majority of the members were against the move.
They believe that once the security establishment had decided to permit Nawaz to travel to the UK for medical treatment, it was very unlikely for the cabinet to oppose the step.
Lawyer Saiful Malook said demanding surety bond and asking date to come back offends the Islamabad High Court judgment and Article 15 of Constitution as after the bail the right to move under Article 15 includes the right to go abroad and even parliament cannot legislate against fundamental rights.