Allowing Nawaz to leave was a 'mistake', says PM Imran

Updated 28 Aug 2020

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Prime Minister Imran Khan gives an interview to ARY anchorperson Arshad Sharif. —  ARY screengrab via Radio Pakistan
Prime Minister Imran Khan gives an interview to ARY anchorperson Arshad Sharif. — ARY screengrab via Radio Pakistan

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said that allowing former premier Nawaz Sharif to leave the country was a "mistake" and that his government "regretted" the decision.

In a wide-ranging interview to ARY News on Thursday night, the prime minister hinted that the government was pressurised into sending Nawaz abroad, saying that the reports presented to the government suggested that the PML-N supremo was severely ill.

The former prime minister was last year allowed to leave for London for medical reasons after he was diagnosed with an immune system disorder. He was convicted in a corruption reference and is nominated in multiple references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The federal cabinet, he said, had held a long debate over whether the government should let Nawaz leave on humanitarian grounds.

Furthermore, the prime minister added, the court had declared that the government would be responsible, should anything happen to Nawaz. The premier also recalled that PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif submitted indemnity bonds worth Rs7 billion, promising Nawaz would return to the country.

"Now we feel embarrassed. Now he [Nawaz] has started doing politics [from] there as well and, when you see him, it seems like there is nothing [wrong] with him.

"We did not give and NRO, we tried our best to do what we could, but the medical opinion presented to us was that if we didn't do anything, he [Nawaz] could die, that he might not even reach London. This is what we were told and after that we would have been held responsible. So after that we sent him in good faith."

When asked if he would order an inquiry in order to confirm if he was presented with "fake reports", the prime minister said that he had been in contact with Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid — whom he described as a "die-hard, visionary worker" of the ruling PTI — at the time and she conveyed all medical opinions regarding Nawaz's condition. He said that Dr Faisal, who is an expert of infectious diseases, had concluded that Nawaz's platelets count did not pose much of a threat but some related diseases may lead to serious problems.

In response to a question, the prime minister admitted that a royal had asked the government to let Nawaz leave, but refused to take a name citing "international relations".

"They (Sharifs) do have connections abroad. But they (the royal) did not assert it, they said it in a very polite manner. It wasn't like 'if you don't do this, this will happen'."

He, however, insisted that the request from the unnamed king was "not an issue" for him.

"I would never have allowed [Nawaz to leave] if medical opinion did not suggest that his life in danger."

Prime Minister Imran also lamented that the country had suffered in the past because "there have always been two laws, one for the powerful and one for the weak".

He criticised the infamous verdict passed by then chief justice Mohammad Munir that "justified martial law" and added that it "showed that might is right".

FATF blacklist

The PM also addressed the recent opposition move to block two bills regarding measures in compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). He pointed out that the country was placed on FATF grey list during PML-N's tenure and the PTI government had introduced the bills in order to prevent the financial watchdog from placing Pakistan on its blacklist.

He warned that if Pakistan was placed on the blacklist, the country would suffer the same challenges as Iran as all international organisations would stop dealing with the country. As a result, he said, the rupee would fall which would lead to inflation.

"People talk about inflation now. If we are placed on the blacklist, we will experience inflation that would ruin our economy."

He repeated that the incumbent government had inherited a crumbling economy, which has only now started to recover. If Pakistan was placed on the blacklist, the country "would face destruction that India is working towards".

He condemned the opposition for blocking the legislation despite knowing that India has been trying to place Pakistan's name on the blacklist for the past two years. He said that the opposition is insisting that the government takes out money laundering sections from the bills and have also proposed 34 amendments in the NAB Ordinance which essentially mean to "dig a grave and bury NAB in it".