Rumours of a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)-like relief for the Sharifs have waned after the first press conference of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his return from Saudi Arabia. It is a fact that an NRO is not possible in Pakistan in the current situation but the ruling party created speculation to obtain some objectives.
Everybody in Pakistan was waiting for the return of the Sharif brothers after their sudden dash to Saudi Arabia. A special plane had reached Lahore to take Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to the Holy Land. The media was especially invited to cover his departure. He looked very pleased and shook hands with all the people around him at the airport before leaving the country. Former Prime Minister Nawaz followed him after a few days. It created an impression that a deal was being finalized in Saudi Arabia for the family to save it from corruption cases. A British newspaper also ran a story that Nawaz Sharif and his family could be allowed to live in exile on certain terms. However, his first press conference proved he was still in search of a miracle. His criticism of the establishment and the judiciary was harsher. He threatened to expose “what has been happening in Islamabad for the past four years if they (the establishment and the judiciary) did not stop their propaganda. They are trying to change the public viewpoint, block the way for a certain political party and pave the way for their darling (PTI Chairman Imran Khan).” Taking a jibe at the military leadership, he said, “If a democratic government had been in place in Pakistan instead of a dictatorship in 2001, the state would never have sold its expertise to the US. It would neither have sold our expertise, nor our self-respect.” His views reflect a defeatist mindset and it appears he has foreseen his defeat in the next election.
According to media reports, the two brothers were treated differently by the Saudi royal family as King Salman was unhappy with Nawaz Sharif’s anti-army campaign and he conveyed his annoyance through Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Nawaz was informed that his campaign against the Pakistan army could destabilise the country, which was the agenda of the enemies of Islam and the country. The Saudi government also downgraded Nawaz Sharif’s protocol after which he had to travel by the Saudi airlines. Others say the two brothers had reached Saudi Arabia with a request for a special economic package for Pakistan, which King Salman approved. The package includes financial aid and oil on deferred payment. It is said Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had sought financial assistance for Pakistan to repay the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in their recent visits.
Several roumours were rife in the country in the absence of the Sharif brothers. Opposition parties feared a deal was being finalised to rescue the family. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan even announced the launch of a movement if an NRO was granted to the Sharifs. It is said the Saudi ambassador in Pakistan called him to assure him that no safe passage was being discussed for the family in his country. Some say the issue was discussed but the royal family is not in a position to help them. The country and the royal family are facing serious issues and they are also aware of the ground realities in Pakistan. Even if the establishment had accepted the demand, the judiciary and Imran Khan could have been the biggest obstacles.
According to some analysts, an NRO for the Sharifs was out of the question and they had visited Saudi Arabia in the context of security issues of the Gulf state and its allies. Others say Saudi Arabia wanted reconciliation between the two brothers as it was concerned about differences between them and Nawaz Sharif was told to get aside after his disqualification and pave the way for his younger brother, so that Imran Khan could not get a free ride in the election. It is said the Pakistani establishment has made it clear that it will not help Shahbaz Sharif if cases are reopened against him. It was also speculated that Shahbaz Sharif had been “summoned” by Saudi Arabia for interrogations for corruption. Talking to a news channel, PML-N leader Zafar Ali Shah said princes caught for corruption in Saudi Arabia had informed the Saudi agencies of their business partnership with the Sharifs after which a special plane was sent for Shahbaz Sharif to include him in investigations.
The speculation was created by the Sharif family itself. First, the media was fed a report that Adviser to Prime Minister on National Security Lt-Gen (retd) Nasir Janjua had called on Nawaz Sharif at his Lahore residence for “five hours” to discuss counterterrorism operations and regional security. Some said he had conveyed a message from the establishment not to disclose state secrets to the public in his rallies. Others said Nasir Janjua was not even in the country and it was some businessman, with the same name, who had met the former prime minister. Before his departure to Saudi Arabia, Shahbaz Sharif also invited ambassadors of 16 countries to Lahore to create an impression that he was being regarded as a future prime minister of Pakistan by foreign countries.
According to some experts, the royal plane had been sent on the request of Shahbaz Sharif as he wanted the royal family to settle his affairs with the international establishment to pave the way for his election as the prime minister. It is said he had assured it of his support to resolve its issues with Iran, Yemen and Qatar. It is also said the NRO propaganda is part of a strategy of the ruling party to target national institutions, stop its legislators from changing loyalty, keep its vote bank intact and maintain control of the bureaucracy. It also aims to malign the image of the establishment as people would believe that false charges had been levelled against the Sharif family and an NRO was offered when it suited the army. Its main objective is to ensure the win of the ruling party in the next election after which it could find a way out for the Sharif family.