Is Nawaz Sharif getting a deal or not?
That is the million dollar question making the rounds in the country for the past few weeks. Both political and media circles are abuzz with speculation that something is cooking behind the scenes and Nawaz Sharif would soon be allowed to go to London under the cover of medical treatment.
Although stories about back-door negotiations for some kind of relief to Nawaz Sharif have been the staple of daily news both in the print and electronic media, yet they took on a new piquancy last week when Nawaz Sharif was shifted from jail to the VVIP block of Lahore’s Services Hospital for medical tests and treatment.
Both government and opposition spokesmen have come out with their own versions of the unfolding events. Denying that the PTI government has offered any concession to the PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif, Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhrya few days ago showed his concern over the VIP treatment being extended to Nawaz Sharif. While voicing his disapproval of the latest development, he also called upon the court, the NAB and other authorities concerned to ensure that all prisoners irrespective of their social status should be given equal treatment.
On the other hand, senior PML-N leaders are not ready to regard the shifting of Nawaz Sharif to the Services Hospital a ‘concession’ on the part of the authorities. Former National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayyaz Sadiq told the media that Nawaz Sharif never wanted to be shifted to the hospital and preferred to stay in jail. In the same vein, former Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said that the Sharif family did not even know when Nawaz Sharif was being shifted to hospital from Kot Lakhpat jail. Contradicting themselves, some of the PML-N leaders have also complained that the government had adopted a casual attitude to the serious health problems facing their leader.
As for the talk of a possible deal, commenting on the issue of backdoor negotiations, Pervaiz Rashid, in a TV talk, dispelled the impression of any deal with the government, saying if Nawaz Sharif had to cut a deal, he would have done it much earlier. PTI leaders, too, keep repeating that the government was not offering a deal to the PML-N supremo. Among others, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid told the media the other day that he had talked to the Prime Minister and he had no intention to give any “deal” or “dheel” (concession) to Nawaz Sharif or Asif Zardari.
Although both sides have rejected the possibility of any understanding between the government and PML-N, yet the recent developments have their own dynamics and repercussions. An important straw in the wind is the increasing talk about sending Nawaz Sharif to London for medical treatment. Last week, senior PML-N leader Pervaiz Malik underlined the need for sending Nawaz Sharif abroad for treatment. Sheikh Rashid has also said that Nawaz Sharif should be allowed to consult his doctors in London. Further, lending credence to the media reports in this regard, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid was also quoted as saying last week that the Prime Minister must take the coalition partners into confidence if the government intended to strike any deal with the PML-N and PPP leaders.
According to some quarters, a deal has already been struck between the Sharif family and the establishment, according to which Nawaz Sharif will sign a contract to go into self-exile on the pretext of medical treatment, while Maryam Nawaz will take over as PML-N chief. In the next stage, Shahbaz Sharif will also get an NRO and leave Pakistan. As part of plea bargain, the Sharif family will deposit in the national treasury a huge amount in foreign exchange. The visit of some Arab dignitaries to Pakistan during the last few months is said to have acted as a catalyst for the new turn in the political situation.
If a deal matures, it will be just a repeat of the one in 1999 between Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf, which allowed the former to go into exile for ten years. In 2006, the United States played an important role behind the scenes in brokering an NRO which paved the way for Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan during Musharraf’s regime. Similarly, Musharraf worked out an NRO to save Benazir Bhutto from various cases.
Nawaz Sharif going into exile will be a great setback for the PML-N as a political entity. It will have a demoralizing effect on the rank and file and the party will gradually wither away in the form of various splinter groups. For the PTI, it will be a big gain in political terms but the party will lose its high moral ground based on its oft-repeated commitment to the accountability process.