LAHORE: Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been in Saudi Arabia for the last two days, has been unable to meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman due to ‘unknown’ reasons, though his younger brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif met Prince Mohammad on Monday and discussed the kingdom’s absence from the summit on Jerusalem held in Turkey last month.

“Mian sahib had a scheduled meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Monday but for some unknown reasons, it was cancelled. It will be seen if the former premier and top Saudi leadership meet before his departure for Pakistan on Tuesday (today),” a friend of the Sharif family told Dawn. He expressed surprise over the delay in the meeting between Nawaz and the Saudi royals and added: “This is a bit unusual but there must be some plausible reason behind it.”

The Punjab government tried to provide a clue behind the Sharifs’ hurried tour of the kingdom, saying: “On Monday Shahbaz Sharif met the Saudi crown prince and discussed matters related to Saudi Arabia’s absence from the summit on Al-Quds in Turkey.”

Official sources told Dawn that Shahbaz Sharif had also met the Saudi intelligence chief.

Punjab CM meets Prince Mohammad

When asked about reports that the arrest of some princes on corruption charges and the CM’s association with them had also been discussed at the meeting, Punjab government spokesperson Malik Muhammad Ahmad said: “This is baseless propaganda.”

The spokesperson told Dawn that Saudi Arabia had been conspicuous by its absence from the summit which was a matter of concern for the Muslim world. “The chief minister had attended that moot and his visit to Saudi Arabia should be seen in that context in which he also met Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in this respect,” he said.

On the various rumours surrounding the Sharifs’ visit to Saudi Arabia — their alleged attempt to get another National Reconciliation Order (NRO) in order to get relief from corruption cases, mending relations with the royal family that were strained in the wake of the Yemen conflict, advising the elder Sharif to stop targeting the Pakistani judiciary and military or publicly nominating Shahbaz as the PML-N’s candidate for prime minister — Mr Ahmad rubbished the speculation and advised the detractors stirring these rumours to show maturity.

Such elements should refrain from damaging national and international interests of Pakistan, he said, adding that it was an honour that Mr Shahbaz was invited by the kingdom, a benefactor country, that sent a special plane.

“Criticising the Saudi government or Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is equivalent to betraying the national interests of Pakistan,” Mr Ahmad said.

The PML-N and the Punjab spokesman have preferred not to comment on the elder Sharif’s failure to meet with the top Saudi leadership so far. “I cannot comment on this,” Mr Ahmad said.

Federal Climate Change Minister and PML-N’s information secretary Mushahidullah Khan told Dawn that he was unable to confirm any meeting the elder Mr Sharif might have planned in Saudi Arabia. “I cannot confirm any meeting of Mian sahib in the Kingdom at the moment. Things will be known soon in this regard,” he said.

Commenting on the furore the meeting had created, he said the PML-N failed to understand why the entire opposition brigade was so fixated on the Sharif family.“The PPP and PTI should spend their energies in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtaunkhwa where they have governments to serve people,” Mr Khan advised.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2018

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