Politics of sickness

The Sharif family and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders have made the government look nervous over health issues of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. According to the government’s own admission, he is being provided with more facilities in jail than he deserves, but he wants to proceed abroad for treatment, despite the fact that a cure is available for his all diseases in the country.

The government will heave a sigh of relief if the Supreme Court grants bail and allows Nawaz Sharif to go abroad for treatment. However, there is a remote chance of bail and even if bail is granted, he may not be allowed to leave the country, as the court has already hinted. In the meantime, members of his family and party continue to raise a hue and cry over his “deteriorating health” to pressurize the government and present a strong case for his bail and permission to leave the country. He is undergoing seven-year imprisonment in the Al-Azizia Mills corruption case. The government claims that he is not ready to be treated in any hospital in the country or get treatment from a doctor of his choice as he wants to go to London for treatment. The PML-N accuses the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government of indulging in politics over his health.

The former premier spent around 10 days in Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital last month. He refused to get further treatment at the hospital after the Islamabad High Court rejected his petition seeking suspension of his sentence in the Al-Azizia reference on medical grounds. His daughter, Maryam Nawaz, regularly meets him in jail and continues to update people on his health. In a recent Tweet, she said, “The former prime minister’s kidney function has deteriorated. His condition is serious. Just got back after meeting MNS (Mian Nawaz Sharif). His doctor’s concern was not unfounded. The blood tests done yesterday reveal a further raise in his creatinine levels which means his kidney function has deteriorated. His kidney disease is already at stage 3. The pain in the flanks persists.”

Some PML-N leaders are threatening Prime Minister Imran Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar with a murder case if “anything serious” happened to the former prime minister. Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, Shahbaz Sharif, said that his elder brother was unwell and if any harm was caused to him, the government and Prime Minister Imran Khan would be responsible. “Nawaz Sharif underwent heart surgery a year ago. He remained the prime minister of the country for three terms. He has given everything to the country; now he is a heart patient and the government is not providing treatment to him which is criminal negligence. They are not taking his health problems seriously,” he told reporters.

Former Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal alleged the PTI government was not serious about his health. “Prime Minister Imran Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar will be responsible if “anything adverse” happens to the former premier. The government had adopted a similar attitude to the health of his wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz. The PML-N had to adopt a legal procedure for the provision of healthcare facilities to Nawaz Sharif,” he told a press conference. In a veiled threat to the government, he advised party workers to be patient and hoped the former premier would soon get relief. He also warned that party workers would be compelled to protest if the government failed to review its decisions on his health. PPP leaders have also come out to support the Sharif family on the issue. PPP leader Khursheed Shah claimed heart treatment was not available at hospitals where Nawaz was treated and advised the PML-N to lodge a case against Prime Minister Imran Khan if Nawaz was harmed.

The Sharif family and PML-N leaders also accuse the government of denying meeting with Nawaz Sharif in jail, despite the fact that he regularly meets people every Thursday, the day reserved for meetings in jail. On the other hand, the government blames the Sharif family for politicising his ailment. “Nawaz Sharif has been provided with facilities, which are not available to other prisoners and even millions of people who are not in jail. He has been offered to get treatment at a hospital and doctors of his choice, but he wants treatment abroad,” a Punjab government spokesman said.

If Nawaz Sharif wants to get treatment in London, he will have to convince the court. When the Supreme Court took up his bail plea, it inquired about any example of sending a convict abroad on bail for treatment. “Unfortunately, our experience is not so good since all those sent abroad for medical treatment never came back,” bemoaned Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa. He was citing former President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, who was allowed to go abroad for treatment in the middle of a trial for committing high treason, but did not return. On another point, the chief justice wondered how Nawaz Sharif could proceed abroad even if he was granted bail because his name was on the Exit Control List (ECL). “We have to determine whether his health has deteriorated or improved after going to prison since despite suffering with the ailment, Nawaz Sharif participated in the last election campaign, besides he also faced the corruption trial,” the chief justice observed. Earlier, the Islamabad High Court had held that none of Sharif’s medical reports suggested that his continued incarceration would be detrimental to his life in any way, adding that he had been hospitalised time and again since January 2019, whenever he had complained about his indisposition.

Initial court proceedings suggest Nawaz Sharif will not be granted bail on medical grounds. Even if bailed, he will not be able to leave the country. It is said the PTI government will be happy if the court grants bail and allows him to proceed abroad for treatment, because it would mark the end of the PML-N and the field would be left open for the PTI in the next election, at least in the Punjab.