ISLAMABAD: After an extended weekend in Lahore, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will head to London on Wednesday for a three-day visit to undergo a pending medical check-up, the Prime Minister’s Office said on Tuesday.

When asked, a senior PM Office official said that only close family members would be joining him on the trip but did not give any details. PM Sharif’s two sons — Hassan and Hussain — are already abroad.

However, with the PM and his family becoming embroiled in the controversy surrounding the Panama Papers leak, his trip to London has created a lot of interest in political circles. In particular, PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s presence in London is being viewed meaningfully by the media at home.

Lending credence to the possibility of a meeting between the two political heavyweights — a sitting PM and a former president, no less — was PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan. At a time when PTI Chairman Imran Khan is ready to launch another sit-in, this time in Raiwind, the leader of the opposition in the Senate had been casting doubt on the reasons for the PM’s sudden visit to London.

Talking to journalists outside parliament on Tuesday, Senator Ahsan wisecracked: “The prime minister has no medical issues and is only visiting London to present himself in the court of Asif Ali Zardari.”

He was also quick to add that whenever the prime minister came under pressure, he always looked towards the PPP leadership for help.

But in response, Dr Musadik Malik, one of the many spokespersons from the Prime Minister’s Office, said that the PM had neither expressed a desire to meet the PPP leader nor had he scheduled a meeting with him. The PM is only visiting London for a medical check-up, Dr Malik said.

But when asked, a senior PTI leader said that there was every likelihood that the PM was going to ask the PPP to bail him out, considering the pressure mounting on him to have the claims against his family investigated. In return for coming to his rescue, the PPP may ask for something, since Dr Asim Hussain and many other senior PPP leaders in Sindh were facing serious charges.

Many of the PPP’s detractors argued that last year’s acquittal from much-talked about SGS & Cotecna was made possible due to a weak prosecution of the case by the PML-N government.

In background discussions, a well-connected PML-N lawmaker admitted that there was a great deal of nervousness among the party’s top leaders following the leak of the Panama Papers.

The PTI chairman, meanwhile, is also heading to London on the coming weekend to attend a couple of fundraisers for his Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2016

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