PML-N leaders hold exhaustive meet with Nawaz in jail

Updated September 17, 2019

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In a significant development, PML-N leaders Shahbaz Sharif, Khwaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal and lawyers of the Sharif family were given a ‘special permission’ on Monday to meet former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Kot Lakhhpat jail. — AFP/File
In a significant development, PML-N leaders Shahbaz Sharif, Khwaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal and lawyers of the Sharif family were given a ‘special permission’ on Monday to meet former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Kot Lakhhpat jail. — AFP/File

LAHORE: In a significant development, PML-N leaders Shahbaz Sharif, Khwaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal and lawyers of the Sharif family were given a ‘special permission’ on Monday to meet former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Kot Lakhhpat jail.

The upcoming hearing on appeal of Nawaz Sharif against conviction in the Al-Azizia Mills case at Islamabad High Court, proposed Islamabad ‘lockdown’ in October against the Imran Khan government and options being ‘offered’ to the party by some elements in the establishment were main point of discussion in the meeting.

In June last, the Punjab government had imposed a ban on PML-N leaders to meet Nawaz in jail following his ‘strong criticism’ of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his policies. The government allowed only five members of the Sharif family to see him on Thursdays.

The government even had not allowed Maryam Nawaz to meet her father (Nawaz Sharif) in jail on Eidul Fitr on the excuse that the meeting day was only fixed for Thursday.

Hearing on appeal against conviction, Islamabad march, other issues come under discussion

But in an apparent change of hearts, the Buzdar administration after receiving an “order from the top” gave ‘special permission’ to opposition leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif, PML-N senior leaders Khwaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal and the Sharif family lawyers to meet Nawaz in jail.

Sources in the PML-N said the meeting lasted for more than three hours. Shahbaz briefed his elder brother about his meeting with JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman over the Islamabad protest and his (Fazl) party’s preparations in this regard.

The PML-N has decided in principle to join “Azadi March” to besiege Islamabad and oust Imran Khan. However, the decision on date of the lockdown has yet to be decided.

“Nawaz told Shahbaz to have on board the whole party and also contact with other parties including the PPP in this regard. He also delivered a message for Maulana Fazl to have complete preparations before announcing a final date for the lockdown in consultation with the allied parties,” the source said and added that Mr Sharif wanted a “concrete homework” by his party and JUI-F to test the PTI government in strict sense of the word. Both Khwaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal gave their input in this regard.

Earlier, the Maulana had warned Imran Khan to step down till Aug 31 for “stealing the mandate” in 2018 general elections, otherwise the JUI-F would march on Islamabad in October.

PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said his party would not join the anti-government long march of the JUI-F but promised to provide “moral and political support”. Giving reason for his party’s stance, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said: “Whether it is a sit-in by Tahirul Qadri, Imran Khan or by Tehreek-i-Labbaik — we were in opposition when those sit-ins took place but we never joined them.”

With his legal team – Khwaja Haris, Azam Nazir Tarar and Amjad Pervaiz – Mr Sharif discussed future line of action for the upcoming hearing of his appeal on Sept 18. The lawyers also discussed possibilities of using a ‘video confession’ of the trial judge, Arshad Malik, to get the ‘controversial’ conviction null and void.

With regard to contacts made by some elements in the establishment with Mr Sharif, the three-time premier reportedly had a talk with the three party stalwarts in the meeting as well.

Earlier, a party insider had told Dawn that emissaries had been sent to call on Mr Nawaz Sharif in recent days, without specifying the sender.

“A property tycoon recently called on Nawaz Sharif in jail and conveyed to him that it was in the best interest of everyone that he and his daughter Maryam Nawaz left the country, to return at the right time. The same gentleman had earlier carried the message of an ‘important person’ to Nawaz Sharif to step down as premier,” the PML-N source said and added Mr Sharif was not prepared to leave the country. “Nawaz Sharif said he would stay here come what may and wants mid-term polls in 2020,” the source said.

Punjab Information Minister Mian Aslam Iqbal did not reply to Dawn’s queries regarding special permission given to Shahbaz Sharif and two other PML-N leaders to meet Nawaz Sharif.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2019