LAHORE: Opposition Leader in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif is returning home from London early on Sunday morning.

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb says the party chief will be landing in Lahore on Sunday morning to negate claims of the government and its spokespersons that he had left the country for good (to evade accountability).

Punjab Information Secretary Azma Zahid Bokhari told Dawn that the party cadre was unlikely to be given a call for coming to the airport to give the party chief a warm welcome. She said though a meeting of the party MPs from Lahore would be held on Saturday (today) to take a final decision, keeping in view the odd timing of flight (4.50am) bringing Mr Sharif home and owing to Eid holidays, the party might not ask them to come at a short notice for the welcome.

PML-N workers unlikely to be mobilised for welcome

“Only MPs and party office-holders will go to the airport to receive the president. But there will be no bar if any worker wishes to join them on their own,” she said.

Party officials say Mr Sharif underwent medical checkup in London on Friday and decided to return home after his doctors declared him fit for travel.

They claim that the doctors had advised Mr Sharif rest for a couple of more weeks but he insisted on returning according to his commitment given to an accountability court that he would return by June 11.

The opposition leader had left the country on a quick foreign visit on April 9 soon after the Lahore High Court lifted the no-fly ban on him. Before boarding a London-bound flight, he had tweeted that he was going abroad for “Allah has blessed his younger son with a boy and his elder son got blessed with a baby girl after 20 years of marriage. The little girl had to undergo (a) major heart surgery in London within a week of birth. I haven’t seen both of them yet because of my detention and my name being on ECL.”

It was believed that his foreign visit would not last more than a couple of weeks. But, Mr Sharif prolonged his stay in London with no apparent reason, giving a chance to political rivals to propagate that he went abroad to escape the cases filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in Ashiyana Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills references.

In the housing scam, Mr Sharif is accused of ordering as Punjab chief minister cancellation of a contract given to successful bidder Chaudhry Latif and Sons at a low cost. It led to the award of the contract to Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy group of Paragon City Private Limited, resulting in a loss of Rs193 million to the provincial kitty.

In the Ramzan Sugar Mills case, Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz are accused of “fraudulently and dishonestly” causing a loss of Rs213 million to the exchequer by developing a drain for their factory at public expenses.

Responding to reports of Mr Sharif’s return, Punjab Information Minister Samsam Bokhari asked the PML-N chief not to forget bringing along former federal finance minister Ishaq Dar who has been staying in London for the last around two years.

Referring to the possible joining of hands by the PML-N and PPP for launching a movement against the government after Eid, the minister said the coming days would expose the Asif Zardari-Nawaz Sharif conspiracy.

Downplaying the opposition’s threat of anti-government drive, he said there would be just budget after Eid and no other activity.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2019