By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday allowed the ailing opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to go abroad for medical treatment, a minister informed media.
Addressing a news conference in capital Islamabad, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said that the government has allowed Sharif to go to London, after depositing a surety bond and committing about his return to the country, to serve remaining sentence.
“Some [cabinet] members had some reservations on the idea of allowing Nawaz Sharif to go abroad, but the majority was of the view that he should be allowed to get treatment of his choice,” she said.
“All the cabinet members had a unanimous view that there should not be an unconditional permission. It should be one-time permission with some conditions”, Awan said.
She, however, did not elaborate on the amount of the security bond. She said further formalities would be decided by a sub-committee of the cabinet, led by Law Minister Farogh Naseem.
At least three medical boards, including the one set up by the government itself, stated that the three-time prime minister needs to be shifted abroad for medical treatment due to the complicated nature of the disease.
Sharif has been diagnosed with suffering from the acute immune thrombocytopenia purpura, a bleeding disorder in which the immune system destroys platelets.
- Divided government
Sources in the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf said that its leaders and ministers in the Khan’s cabinet were deeply divided on the issue.
A group of leaders opposing the idea of allowing Sharif to go abroad, said that it would damage Khan’s long-standing narrative, of not giving any concession to the “corrupt”.
Another group that included Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Interior Minister, Brigadier Ijaz Shah, and Governor of Punjab Province, who is also a former British MP, Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar argued that Sharif should be allowed to go abroad on humanitarian grounds, a cabinet member told Anadolu Agency, wishing anonymity.
Interior Minister Brigadier Ijaz Shah, said the government was allowing Sharif to go abroad due to the complicated nature of his disease.
“There is no deal or dheel [relaxation]. This is purely a health-related issue,” Shah told local broadcaster Geo News.
“He is ill, that’s why the government is allowing him to go abroad for treatment. He is not going forever," said the minister.
The Islamabad High Court, late last month, suspended the seven-year jail term of Sharif and granted him an interim bail for eight weeks to attend to his ailments.
- Delaying tactics
Prime Minister Khan who had earlier announced that his government was going to allow Sharif to fly abroad for treatment, later sent the matter to the country’s top corruption watchdog-National Accountability Bureau (NAB)- to take a decision. The NAB, instead of taking a decision, shifted the onus to the Law Ministry.
The main opposition, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has accused the government of using “delaying tactics," which could be “disastrous” to Sharif’s health.
The party’s spokesperson, Maryam Aurangzeb told reporters that a Qatar Airlines air ambulance would arrive in the northeastern city of Lahore to take Sharif to London.
“Every single moment is precious. The inordinate delay in removing his name from the no-fly list is tantamount to playing with his life," said an emotional Aurangzeb.
While Sharif served as prime minister thrice, he was unable to complete a full five-year term. The former prime minister, who has twice undergone open-heart surgeries, has been convicted in two of three corruption cases, and exonerated in the third.
In the first case, he, along with his daughter Maryam and son-in-law, was sentenced to 10 years in jail by an accountability court in Islamabad. But the Islamabad High Court (IHC) suspended the conviction in September 2018.
In the second case, known as Al Azizia, in December 2018, Sharif was sentenced seven years in jail for owning assets beyond known income sources. The IHC suspended the jail term and granted bail to Sharif for eight weeks on medical grounds last month.
In July 2017, he was disqualified by the Supreme Court over the Panama Papers scandal, which also led to the filing of three corruption cases. Not long after, the top court also barred him from holding leadership of his party.