Seeking Nawaz’s return

Published March 5, 2020

THE government’s decision to approach the British authorities to seek the ‘extradition’ of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in London these days for the treatment of a reportedly complicated ailment, cannot be defended on any grounds.

However, the move has not come as a surprise.

Many political observers were expecting the government to take such action, especially over the last few days since the Punjab cabinet turned down a request from the Sharif family to extend the ‘medical bail’ that had been granted to the ailing PML-N leader.

The provincial government tried to justify its decision, saying that the Sharif family had neither shared the “necessary medical reports and updates” with it, nor admitted the former prime minister to a UK hospital for treatment for his illness.

It has been triumphantly brandishing a picture showing Mr Sharif and his family members in a restaurant, in order to convince the public that the Sharif family had taken advantage of his illness to flee the country.

But none of the doubts being raised by the government about Mr Sharif’s health justifies its letter asking for his ‘deportation’ by the British authorities.

For starters, while Mr Sharif may had been convicted and sentenced to a seven-year jail term, he had not escaped from prison to flee the country.

He left the country only when the courts suspended his sentence and granted him bail, permitting him to proceed abroad for treatment in view of his deteriorating health on the recommendation of a government-appointed board of senior doctors.

The court had also allowed him to seek from the Punjab government an extension in his bail if his treatment required him to stay abroad for a longer period.

Thus, the government has embarrassed only itself by effectively asking the British authorities to treat the former Pakistan leader as a fugitive from justice and to deport him to Pakistan.

The best strategy for the government would have been to approach the courts to instruct the family to provide whatever updates or reports it needed to extend his stay abroad.

The government, which actually facilitated his release on bail and his departure for treatment abroad as his condition deteriorated in prison here, is now using his extended stay in Britain for politicking purposes to discredit him in the eyes of the voters. Such tactics seldom work.

Having said that, it must be pointed out that there is no logic to the former prime minister’s brother Shahbaz Sharif’s prolonged stay outside the country. Being the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, he has certain duties to attend to in parliament. If he is unable to return home soon, he should relinquish that job and let someone else lead the opposition in the Assembly. His position is crucial to parliamentary traditions and democratic norms. He must fulfil his responsibilities.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2020

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