• Ex-PM had only returned on Tuesday; ‘N’ leader says issues ‘that can’t be discussed over the phone’ on the table
• Maryam holds meeting with uncle, will also arrive in UK today by separate flight for pre-planned visit

LONDON / LAHORE: Merely 48 hours after he returned to the country from the UK, former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif is heading back to London today (Thursday), a development that has raised many eyebrows.

The former prime minister left London earlier in the week after spending several weeks here, but upon reaching Lahore, made a sudden plan to return in order to have a face-to-face meeting with his elder brother, party supremo Nawaz Sharif.

His visit will coincide with the London trip of party vice-president Maryam Nawaz, who is expected to land in London just before her uncle arrives, on a separate flight.

Party insiders said on Wednesday that the two leaders would hold an “important huddle” with Nawaz Sharif regarding his planned return to Pakistan.

Sources told Dawn the former PM is returning to discuss important matters with his elder brother, adding that there are “important discussions regarding the return of Nawaz” that must take place in person.

A party insider said the discussions are going to be about the prevailing political situation, as well as the party’s plan for the upcoming general election.

“Obviously it is something urgent that cannot be discussed over the phone,” the party leader said, on condition of anonymity.

Another party insider told Dawn that Shehbaz Sharif had also held a one-on-one meeting with Maryam Nawaz in Lahore on Wednesday, where matters related to the elder Sharif’s return were discussed.

They also discussed the situation arising out of the reopening of accountability cases against him and other members of the Sharif family in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the NAB amendments, and legal implications they could face in its aftermath.

Sources say the question of who would be the party’s pick for the PM’s slot in the next government was also on the table.

Unlike Shehbaz Sharif’s rushed return, Maryam Nawaz’s trip to the United Kingdom holds no surprises, as the party had already announced she was headed there to sort out her daughter’s admission, and see her father.

A party insider said Maryam’s trip was scheduled long ago and was for family reasons, adding that it will be a short trip as Nawaz wants her to return to Pakistan and make preparations ahead of his planned arrival on October 21.

The former premier’s return to London comes as a surprise to many, even within the party. The party chief had already spent nearly a month in London for his medical check-ups, as well as holding discussions with his elder brother.

It was Shahbaz who, flanked by Nawaz, told reporters outside Stanhope House that the elder Sharif is set to return to Pakistan on October 21. The brothers held several discussions with each other during his last trip, with other party members also dropping in. In recent weeks, Mohammad Zubair, Abid Sher Ali and Khawaja Asif have all met Nawaz in London, and conveyed their messages surrounding the plan for Nawaz’s return.

Sources said that in order for his return to go smoothly, the elder Sharif needed to secure protective bail in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case.

However, he would have to surrender before the court in the Al-Azizia case, in which he was convicted for seven years and was serving his sentence at Kot Lakhpat Jail before he was allowed to leave the country on ‘medical grounds’ in 2019.

“Will NAB oppose Nawaz’s protective bail in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case… this remains to be seen when the party chief applies for it ahead of his planned return,” the insider said, adding that the Sharifs were looking for ‘certain guarantees’ to be in place before Nawaz’s arrival.

Under the reopened cases, Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif will mainly have to contend with cases regarding the allotment of plots and the Ramzan Sugar Mills, respectively.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2023

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