THE courts granted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif bail so he could get the medical treatment he needs. The government agreed to remove his name from the ECL on humanitarian grounds so he could travel abroad. All seemed smooth till all of a sudden the government announced that Mr Sharif would have to sign an indemnity bond worth Rs7bn before he would be allowed to travel, as a guarantee of his return. PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif refused to sign the bond, and instead, challenged the decision in the Lahore High Court. A normal situation which could have been handled normally has now turned into a full-blown crisis.
This is despite the fact that there is no ambiguity about the seriousness of Nawaz Sharif’s medical condition. The latest report from the government-appointed medical board has stated clearly that he is suffering from life-threatening ailments, and his platelets continue to hover at precarious levels. More alarmingly, the doctors have not been able to identify the underlying cause of the plunging platelet count. In short, the former prime minister needs urgent and immediate treatment abroad. In such a situation, the government’s callous decision to demand an indemnity note smacks of political point-scoring and one-upmanship. This is wrong on all counts. First, Mr Sharif has shown in the past that he will not abscond from the law. He illustrated this in July last year when he and his daughter Maryam Nawaz returned from London after a court had sentenced them in Pakistan. Second, the courts have given him bail which fulfils the legal requirement for his travel overseas. The government is, then, under no legal requirement to ask for an indemnity bond. Doing so is a political decision, and an unfortunate one. Third, the bond requirement is an afterthought in the wake of the disenchantment of some cabinet members who argued that letting Mr Sharif travel abroad would extract a political cost for the PTI government. Such indecision has soiled the feel-good factor generated by the original decision which was based on compassionate grounds.
The result is an acrimonious fight that is eating away precious time from the eight weeks’ bail given to Mr Sharif for his treatment. The damage done to the political environment of the country will, unfortunately, take a while to mend. This was a good opportunity for Prime Minister Imran Khan to allow his empathy — which he has displayed quite often — to override his hostility towards his political opponent. Had he brushed aside the pressure from his advisers to add the indemnity bond clause to the one-time waiver from the ECL, he would have gained tremendous political capital from all sides. He did not do so, and now the situation has become a minefield of unforeseen consequences. The government should, even at this stage, undo the decision and allow Mr Sharif to travel unhindered.
Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2019