Federal Minister for Law and Justice Farogh Naseem on Wednesday announced that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif will be given a "one-time" permission to travel abroad for his medical treatment for a period of four weeks.
Addressing a press conference along with Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar, he said this permission will be subject to the Sharif family submitting an indemnity bond "to the tune of Rs7-7.5 billion".
The PML-N swiftly rejected the government decision, terming it "biased" and "based on revenge politics".
Naseem was speaking after chairing a consultative meeting of the cabinet's sub-committee held to finalise its recommendations on the matter of removing Nawaz's name from the Exit Control List (ECL).
He said the permission is "not conditional to anyone's consent" and has been granted to fulfil the government's obligations in view of Nawaz's "adverse critical medical condition".
He said the interior ministry had received an application from PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif for the removal of Nawaz's name from the no-fly list. Along with the plea, a detailed medical report from Sharif Medical City hospital was also submitted. It was cross-checked and on November 10, the Punjab medical board in its report agreed with the report of the Sharif Medical City, Naseem added.
He said the report highlighted that Nawaz has a blood disorder, while his platelet count was around 25,000 when it should have been around 150,000 or above. He had also suffered a stroke.
"On November 12, we held three meetings and the sub-committee informed the cabinet that Nawaz Sharif's medical condition is very serious," he said, noting that besides the blood platelets issue, Nawaz suffers from numerous cardiac issues and has undergone six heart procedures in which seven stents were inserted. Naseem quoted doctors as saying that when they attempt to treat Nawaz's platelet count issues, other complications including those related to his heart arise.
The law minister acknowledged that the committee members had not known that the former premier's condition is "so adverse", and once apprised of the same, the federal cabinet voted in favour of allowing Nawaz to travel abroad with a "thumping majority".
However, he said, the cabinet members agreed that the permission will be "one time" and will be subject to the Sharif family submitting an indemnity bond.
Naseem said the permission will be formally issued to the Sharif family shortly. "It is up to them how they take the matter forward," he added.
He said the decision was taken in light of past precedents in which convicts were given "one-time" permission to travel abroad. Answering a question, the minister said Nawaz will be able to apply for an extension after the four-week period ends.
Special assistant Akbar clarified that Nawaz's name was not being removed from the ECL — because the law does not permit so — but he was being granted a one-time permission.
A memorandum issued by the interior ministry later in the evening said "it has been decided by the federal government to allow one-time permission to Mr Muhammad Nawaz Sharif [...] to travel abroad for medical treatment for a period of 04 weeks from the date of departure (during his bail period), subject to furnishing indemnity bond as following":
- 8 million UK pounds or equivalent rupees
- US $25 million or equivalent rupees
- Rs1.5 billion
PML-N rejects decision
Shortly after the news conference, the PML-N rejected the government's conditional offer to allow Nawaz to travel abroad.
In a statement, party spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said the government decision to make the removal of Nawaz's name from ECL conditional to the submission of indemnity bonds was based on "[Prime Minister] Imran Khan's biased attitude and revenge politics".
She said surety bonds had already been submitted and constitutional and legal requirements had been met at the time of securing Nawaz's bail from high courts.
"A government court cannot be established above the court," the spokesperson said, adding that the government demand to submit security bonds was not acceptable to the party.
She accused the government of acknowledging the gravity of Nawaz's health on one hand while on the other hand "creating hurdles" in the way of his immediate treatment abroad
According to a statement issued by the party, PML-N president Shehbaz has called a meeting of the party's senior leadership tomorrow to discuss the government decision.
Shehbaz will address a press conference following the meeting at around 3pm on Thursday.
After marathon meetings of the federal cabinet and its sub-committee on Tuesday, Nawaz had refused to travel abroad for his medical treatment under the conditions proposed by the government. The government had asked that the PML-N supremo’s brother Shehbaz Sharif or his daughter Maryam submit on his behalf surety bonds equivalent to the fines imposed on him in the two corruption cases — Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Avenfield properties.
“If Nawaz Sharif leaves the country and does not come back, NAB and the courts can ask us that why the government had allowed Nawaz Sharif to proceed abroad,” the prime minister was quoted as saying in yesterday's federal cabinet meeting.
But the deadlock hampering the former premier's chances of travelling abroad for medical treatment persisted as PML-N refused to submit the surety bonds. Speaking to reporters after the meeting yesterday, PML-N leader Ataullah Tarar said the party had already submitted surety bonds in the Lahore and Islamabad high courts to secure Nawaz's bail and that the issue of Nawaz's medical treatment was already discussed in the courts.
"There is no need to submit further surety at any forum," he had said.
Morning meeting cancelled
Earlier today, a meeting of the sub-committee scheduled for 10am was postponed.
Punjab Health Secretary Momin Agha, who had arrived for the meeting, had told DawnNewsTV that it did not take place. The head of the medical board formed for Nawaz's health, Services Hospital Principal Dr Mahmood Ayaz, had also arrived to attend the meeting.
There may have been a miscommunication about the meeting, Dr Ayaz told DawnNewsTV. No official notification or statement was made in this regard.
Speaking to the media in the morning, Tarar said that PML-N representatives had not been asked to appear before the sub-committee meeting. However, the head of the committee had told them that if they change their stance on the surety bonds, they should inform the committee.
Tarar added that the party had not changed its position.
Additionally, party spokesperson Aurangzeb refuted reports that PML-N had decided to boycott the sub-committee meeting, clarifying that they had never been invited to attend it.
Meanwhile, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said the government had taken a "big step".
In a tweet today, Chaudhry said that while there was a battle for leadership ongoing in PML-N, the party shouldn't do politics on Nawaz's health and should arrange the surety.
He added that Nawaz's situation may set an example and other suspects such as former president Asif Ali Zardari may also seek a similar offer.
"Without any process being authorised, sending [him] abroad is not practically possible," he said.
Govt playing 'dangerous game' with Nawaz's health
Separately, in a statement issued today, Aurangzeb said that the government's delay (in removing Nawaz's name from the ECL) was causing a delay in the arrival of an air ambulance to transport the former premier abroad.
She said that as per the doctor's directives, the air ambulance was supposed to arrive today.
"Making Nawaz's departure abroad conditional is unconstitutional," she said, adding that the government was playing a "dangerous game" with Nawaz's health.
An emergency meeting of doctors is underway regarding his health, she said, sharing that the former premier had been administered high doses of steroids twice already and repeated doses of steroids could be dangerous, given Nawaz's health.
She said that all the legal requirements regarding his health had already been completed and the government should not act as a hindrance to his immediate treatment.
Request for Nawaz to go abroad
Nawaz was rushed from Kot Lakhpat jail to the hospital last month after his personal physician Dr Adnan Khan raised an alarm over his deteriorating health. Doctors have been struggling to bring his platelet count — that had dropped to dangerous levels — back to normal.
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif had then submitted a request to the interior ministry as well as NAB for the removal of Nawaz's name from the ECL so that the former prime minister could travel abroad for medical treatment. Nawaz has been diagnosed with an immune system disorder and his condition is said to be "extremely critical".
Nawaz, who was incarcerated after an accountability court found him guilty in the Al Azizia corruption reference, was granted bail by the Islamabad High Court on humanitarian grounds. He also obtained bail in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case, in which he is a suspect, from the Lahore High Court.
"Nawaz Sharif has finally agreed to go to London after the doctors told him categorically that they had already exhausted all medical treatment [options] available in Pakistan and going abroad is the only option left," a Sharif family source told Dawn last week.
In a statement, the interior ministry had said that it had forwarded Nawaz's health reports received from Sharif Medical City, Lahore to the "Standing Medical Board" for their input and review.
The statement said that the ministry took all necessary actions keeping in view the urgency of the matter as pleaded by Shehbaz in his request.
There were reports that the former prime minister may leave for London on Monday; however, the procedure to remove his name from the no-fly list could not be completed. In addition, his platelet count remained unstable and, according to Aurangzeb, doctors continued to struggle to get his platelet levels up to the required mark for travel.