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LAHORE: Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif landed in Jeddah on Monday as part of his efforts to keep his ‘foreign friends’ on his side at a time when he needs support both at home and abroad to deal with the challenges he is facing in the aftermath of the Panama Papers case judgement of the Supreme Court.

Although the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) did not confirm his meeting with any members of the Saudi royal family, sources in the ruling party insisted that the former premier was scheduled to call on ‘his sympathisers’ there.

“Mian sahib’s sudden change of programme from London to Lahore to London to Jeddah has been made after some of his friends there assured him of arranging his meeting with those who matter the most to mend his relations with them,” a source said.

He said Mr Sharif had spent seven years in exile in Saudi Arabia and his relationship with the royal family was known to everyone. “However, his ‘ideal’ relations with them were affected on the Yemen issue... and now efforts are on to restore old relations.”

When contacted, Minister for Climate Change Mushahidullah Khan said: “Mian sahib has gone to Saudi Arabia to perform Umra along with his mother and will return before Oct 26 to appear before the accountability court hearing NAB references.”

Mr Sharif’s next appearance before the accountability court in Islamabad is due on Thursday.

In reply to a question about reports that he had gone Jeddah to meet some friends in the royal family to seek their support, he said: “Mian sahib indeed has friends in the Saudi royal family, but the prime purpose of his visit is to perform Umra along with his mother whom he cares a lot about.”

Senator Mushahidullah alleged that the international establishment had conspired against Mr Sharif with the help of local facilitators that led to his disqualification in the Panama Papers case, even though his name was not mentioned in the papers.

“They knew Mr Sharif could not be defeated in the political arena that was why the Panama [Papers] stage was set. In 1999, he was punished for carrying out nuclear tests and this year for bringing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to the country that has the potential to change the destiny of Pakistan and has strong impact on the region,” the party’s information secretary said.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2017