Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has flown to London, leaving behind a trail of unanswered questions. Is his departure a result of a deal? Or did the government allow him to leave on the orders of the judiciary? Was Nawaz Sharif’s sickness genuine or fake? When will Maryam Nawaz leave the country to join her father? Last but not the least, will he return to Pakistan and how soon?
Some analysts have called it a covert deal. A large segment of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) supporters reacted rather angrily when the Lahore High Court decided to allow Nawaz Sharif to go abroad for medical treatment. They charged that there are two kinds of justice system in the country – one for the rich, another for the poor. They also demanded that everyone be given equal treatment under the law.
According to some legal eagles, in Nawaz Sharif’s case, a legal philosophy or concept known as “legal realism” has been at work. Legal realism means that the courts are living organisms and it would be wrong to think they live in ivory towers isolated from what the feelings, sentiments and problems a society faces. In short, the court system works as an arbiter between competing narratives and strives to strike a balance.
In the given circumstances, it was unlikely that the LHC would take the entire burden of Nawaz Sharif’s health conditions on its shoulders and order him to remain in the country. The court could also not overlook the fact that the person in question was a three-time prime minister and the leader of one of the biggest political parties in Pakistan. The verdict they finally pronounced was the best possible that could be given, especially in light of the fact that the federal government’s condition of an indemnity bond from Nawaz Sharif implied its intent to let Nawaz Sharif go.
At the heart of the controversy surrounding the Exit Control List (ECL) lay the fact nobody wanted to take the risk of forcing Nawaz Sharif to stay in the country. For, if something happened to him, they would be held responsible. At the same time nobody wanted to take the blame for letting him go unconditionally.
A little clarification will be in order here. The removal of a name from the ECL is regulated by the Exit from Pakistan Control Ordinance, 1981 read with the Exit from Pakistan Control Rules, 2010. Neither of these enactments allows the federal government to ask for an indemnity bond before taking someone’s name off the ECL. This would mean that by imposing such a condition the federal government would be acting “ultra vires” — a legal term that means “beyond its authority”, allowing a court to strike down any such action.
All said, Prime Minister Imran Khan resisted Nawaz Sharif going abroad for better healthcare until the last moment. The final bulwark was created in the form of an indemnity bond which was rejected by the Lahore High Court (LHC). But it must be remembered that the LHC only objected to the indemnity bond condition; it did not allow Nawaz Sharif to leave. At the end of it all, it was IK who gave the green signal for Nawaz Sharif to go.
There is a different kind of buzz in the PML-N camp. It is that Nawaz Sharif did not want to leave the country but his deteriorating health forced him to do so. The platelets count story came handy and convinced the party supporters that their leader was really ill and needed medical treatment abroad.
The incessant media noise about platelets led credence to this version of the ongoing drama. The Nawaz apologists argued he would return after his health improves because he had returned to face prosecution and prison term in the past. And that his health shouldn’t be used for political exploitation.
There are now two possibilities. If Nawaz returns, he would prove to his supporters that he had left to seek better healthcare. In the case, he would emerge as a fighter and his party will gain politically. However, if Nawaz stays back indefinitely, he will prove himself a runaway and that would be bad for his party’s fortunes. This will vindicate Imran Khan who will continue harping on his favourite theme of Nawaz Sharif being a cheat. From this perspective, Nawaz’s refusal to return would mean his political demise. Like Ishaq Dar, lying in bed and playing sick won’t work anymore.
The final decision lies with Nawaz Sharif. Will he return and keep his dynastic legacy alive, and thus help his daughter become the country’s next leader? Or will he play politics from London and bide his time till Imran Khan, through his acts of omission and commissions, becomes an unbearable burden for the people and the powers that be? The answer to these questions will be clear in the next few weeks.