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LAHORE: Saudi Arabia is likely to become the hub of Pakistani politics as ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif is set to leave for the kingdom on Saturday (today) while his brother Shahbaz Sharif and Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique are already there.

Although the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is reluctant to officially state anything about the party chief’s departure, a seat has been booked in Nawaz Sharif’s name for a Jeddah-bound flight for Saturday.

A public meeting he was to address in Sargodha on Sunday (Dec 31) has been rescheduled for Jan 6 because of his unavailability.

The Punjab chief minister is already in Saudi Arabia on an “official” visit. The Saudi government had sent a special plane for his travel to the kingdom on Wednesday. He is believed to have prepared the ground for the visit of his elder brother.

Nawaz Sharif will meet the top Saudi leadership, including King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, and “discuss with them various aspects of friendly relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia”, a family friend said, but did not elaborate further.

Ousted PM booked on a Jeddah-bound flight for today; Khursheed Shah says foreigners being invited to interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs

For lack of a clear agenda of the visit, the opposition interprets it as a step towards winning the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) for the embattled Sharifs who are facing multiple cases in courts and challenges in the political field.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party objected to the Sharifs’ Saudi visit, saying it was tantamount to humiliating a nuclear power by inviting foreigners to interfere in its internal affairs.

“It looks like the matter is towards [seeking] forgiveness and that an NRO may be on the horizon,” he said in Lahore, adding: “If such a situation arises, I think we’ll have to shut our courts and go home.”

Mr Shah said he felt sorry to see that foreigners were being involved in local matters, adding that “if Saudi Arabia intervenes [for reconciliation between the Sharifs and the establishment] it will be shameful that Pakistan — a nuclear power — cannot make its own decisions”.

He saw a big difference between the NRO signed by the PPP with former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf and the one the N-League was trying to strike now.

In Islamabad, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan vowed to resist the Sharifs’ move for winning another NRO.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif rejected the opposition’s objections, arguing that the Sharifs had spent eight long years in exile in Saudi Arabia and enjoyed good relations with the royal family for decades.

“None, including Khursheed Shah, has the right to object to the Sharifs’ visit to the kingdom,” he said in a statement.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan also rejected the opposition’s claims about the NRO and said the Sharifs were visiting the kingdom for the sake of forging unity among the ummah on certain international matters and nothing was going to be discussed about Pakistan’s internal affairs there.

He said that since the former prime minister had developed a good reputation among the ummah after he took the bold decision of conducting nuclear tests in 1998, he was in a position to play a positive role in bringing together various Muslim states on certain issues.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2017