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Sharifs return from ‘mysterious’ trip to Saudi Arabia

January 03, 2018

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MAKKAH: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif along with his son Hussain after offering prayers in Masjid al-Haram on Tuesday.—INP
MAKKAH: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif along with his son Hussain after offering prayers in Masjid al-Haram on Tuesday.—INP

LAHORE: Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif returned to the country on Tuesday after completing their ‘mysterious’ trip to Saudi Arabia which had sparked all kinds of rumours about their political future.

Towards the end of his three-day stay there, the elder Sharif finally managed to get a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman late on Monday night. “Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif met Crown Prince Mohammad late on Monday night in Jeddah,” Senator Pervaiz Rashid, a close aide to Mr Sharif, told Dawn on Tuesday.

When asked about the details of the meeting, Mr Rashid said: “It was a meeting between three people and only one of them could tell you about it. However, in the coming days, the details of their (Sharif brothers) meetings will become known.”

In response to a question about why Mr Sharif was unable to meet King Salman, Mr Rashid said: “Mian sahib’s meeting with King Salman was not scheduled. Besides, the king was not well.”

Brothers had a late-night meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad in Jeddah

During the first two days, Mr Sharif had been unable to meet with the top Saudi leadership due to ‘unknown’ reasons, even though his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif had met the crown prince. Upon his arrival here, CM Shahbaz told reporters that he would hold a separate presser on his visit to Saudi Arabia. “My visit to Saudi Arabia was not ‘unusual’. I will hold a separate press conference to discuss the visit,” he said.

Mr Shahbaz, however, appeared uneasy when journalists insisted that he respond to reports that his visit had something to do with attempts to get another National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) for the Sharif family to get relief from corruption cases. “For God’s sake...Saudi Arabia is one of the best friends of Pakistan. It has always helped Pakistan during crises like floods, earthquakes and wars,” the chief minister replied before abruptly cutting the press conference short.

Federal Climate Change Minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s information secretary, Mushahidullah Khan, told Dawn that the Sharif brothers had a “very important” meeting with the crown prince. “The meeting was held at 3am on Tuesday, Pakistan time,” he said.

This was Mr Shahbaz’s second meeting with Crown Prince Salman during his stay in the kingdom, which lasted about a week. He had also met with the Saudi intelligence chief. When asked about the significance of the Punjab CM’s meetings with the crown prince, the minister said: “All meetings there have great significance.”

Senator Mushahidullah further said that those spreading rumours about their visit should know that the elder Mr Sharif was given ‘royal protocol’ in Saudi Arabia.

Although opposition leaders Imran Khan and Asif Ali Zardari have consistently held that the only reason the Sharif brothers had visited Saudi Arabia was to talk about a possible deal with the establishment, the PML-N maintains that they had discussed matters of ‘national interest’.

The Punjab government earlier said that CM Shahbaz had met the Saudi crown prince to discuss Saudi Arabia’s absence from the summit on Al-Quds in Turkey last month, and insisted that his meeting should only be seen in this context.

The ousted prime minister arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday evening and is likely to appear today before an accountability court in corruption references against him.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2018