LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: An air ambulance is arriving here on Tuesday morning to take the ailing supremo of the main opposition party Nawaz Sharif to London a day after the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government gave him a one-time permission to travel abroad for medical treatment during his bail period — without the condition of submitting indemnity bonds.

The interior ministry issued a notification to allow the former prime minister, whose name still figures on the Exit Control List (ECL), to travel abroad.

The notification says the decision has been taken as an “interim arrangement” in the light of the Lahore High Court’s order.

Just last Wednesday the government had granted a one-time permission to Mr Sharif for four weeks to travel abroad for his treatment, provided he submitted indemnity bonds worth around Rs7.5 billion. The move was challenged by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in the LHC that allowed the travel after seeking an undertaking from Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif to ensure the PML-N supremo’s return.

Air ambulance arrives to shift ex-PM to London

His personal physician, Dr Adnan Khan, will accompany him during the air travel. He tweeted: “Former PM Sharif will travel to London in a high-end air ambulance equipped with a fully functional and staffed Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Operation Theatre. A team of doctors and paramedics will be on board headed by an Intensivist. ETD (LHE): Tuesday 19 NOV Morning.”

Talking to reporters, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal criticised the PTI government for creating hurdles in the departure of the former premier. “Nawaz Sharif could have gone abroad 15 days ago if the government had not created unnecessary hurdles in his travel. This delay could have been fatal,” he said, while condemning the remarks being passed by some PTI ministers against the ailing leader.

In its notification, the interior ministry reproduced the undertakings provided by the Sharif brothers to the LHC in which the terms of their travel and return had been laid out.

The undertaking provided by Shahbaz Sharif has promised to ensure return of his elder brother within four weeks or as and when certified by the doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return to Pakistan. He has also undertaken to provide periodical reports of the doctor duly notorised by the embassy to the registrar of the LHC. The undertaking includes a clause that states that the Pakistan High Commission will have the right to meet Nawaz’s doctors to ‘verify or confirm about his health’, if at any stage the federal government has credible information that the former premier was living abroad despite being fit to travel.

The ex-PM in his undertaking also pledged to return to Pakistan citing his past record to face the process of law and justice within four weeks or as soon as he is declared healthy and fit to travel back. “I also do hereby bind myself to the undertaking given by my brother Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif,” it reads.

The interior ministry’s notification also mentioned the judgement of the LHC about the permission to travel. The LHC had on Saturday allowed his stay in any other country for four weeks for medical treatment, observing that the duration could be extended based on his medical reports.

In a blow to the government that had placed a condition of indemnity bonds for Nawaz’s travel, the court had ordered the federal government to temporarily remove his name from the ECL without any conditions of indemnity bonds worth over Rs7 billion. However, the special assistant to the prime minister on accountability along with attorney general at a press conference a day after the LHC decision hailed it, claiming that the decision ‘reinforced’ government stance.

Nawaz, who was diagnosed with an immune system disorder, has been advised by doctors to go abroad for medical treatment. He was rushed from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail to hospital last month after his personal physician had raised an alarm over his deteriorating health. Later, Mr Shahbaz requested the interior ministry and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for the removal of Nawaz’s name from the ECL so that he could be taken abroad for medical treatment.

The PML-N supreme leader, 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 from the LHC.

Nawaz has now become the third former prime minister to get one-time waiver to travel abroad. While former prime ministers Yusuaf Raza Gillani and Raja Pervez Ashraf had been given such permission in the past, Nawaz remains the only convicted former prime minister to get such a concession.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2019