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LAHORE / RAWALPINDI: Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif held meetings with some members of the Saudi royal family on Wednesday, a development which some Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) insiders described as “positive”.

A close source to the former PM told Dawn on Wednesday that “Mian sahib met important persons in Saudi Arabia”, and had decided to extend his stay in the Kingdom in the light of those meetings.

Mr Sharif, who faces three corruption references before an accountability court in Islamabad, is required to appear before the court on Thursday (today). But sources said that chances of him returning to Pakistan for Thursday’s hearing were slim. A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-742 will arrive in the capital early on Thursday morning, but Mr Sharif is not booked to travel to Islamabad from Jeddah on it.

“At this stage, we cannot comment on how these meetings will shape the political scene in Pakistan, but one thing is for sure, these [the meetings] were positive,” the source said.

Earlier, Mr Sharif had changed his plan to return to Lahore from London and flew to Jeddah instead after some of his friends there assured him that they would arrange his meetings with certain influential people.

Hassan Nawaz had earlier announced that his father would arrive in Pakistan on Wednesday ahead of the court hearing.

The former premier is in Saudi Arabia with his mother where they performed Umra.

“I cannot confirm Mian sahib’s arrival schedule,” federal Minister for Climate Change Mushahidullah Khan, who is also the PML-N’s information secretary, told Dawn.

In reply to a question whether Mr Sharif had extended his stay in Saudi Arabia because of his meetings with the royal family which could lead to some kind of settlement in Pakistan, the minister said: “I cannot comment on this.”

A source close to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said: “If things work out amicably in Saudi Arabia, Shahbaz Sharif may have a bigger role in the PML-N in the coming days. Since Mian sahib has limited options at this stage, the impression doing the rounds in the party is that its [the party’s] reins will eventually fall into the hands of Shahbaz.”

When asked about the possibility of Mr Shahbaz getting the top job as a result of a settlement with the establishment, Senator Mushahidullah said: “One thing is clear. Every person in the PML-N will get the role that Mian Nawaz Sharif will confer on him or her.”

Other sources said that Mr Sharif is likely to return to London to see his ailing wife Kulsoom Nawaz, who was re-admitted to hospital after her condition deteriorated on Tuesday.

His daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif and son-in-law retired Capt Mohammad Safdar will appear before the court on Thursday, while Mr Sharif is likely to be indicted through a pleader in his absence.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2017