Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: Reuters
Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: Reuters

On Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued non-bailable warrants for Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia Steel Mill corruption case after the former prime minister failed to surrender to authorities.

The court also observed that the medical certificates provided by Sharif to support his claim that he is too ill to return to Pakistan from England were those of a consultant and not a hospital.

The IHC directed the foreign secretary to contact the British authorities through the Pakistani High Commission to ensure Sharif’s return.

The issuance of the arrest warrants started a debate inside the country, where many of Sharif’s colleagues and supporters are of the view that he is again being denied justice and that the court made this decision in a haste. On the other hand, many supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) think Sharif has always been given relief by the courts and that the IHC’s decision to declare him an absconder is based on merit.

Imran Khan aide interviewed

This correspondent talked to Ali Nawaz Awan, special assistant to the prime minister on capital development authority affairs, about the Sharif case and also about the ongoing harassment of journalists.

Awan, a self-made politician and a close aide of Prime Minister Imran Khan, did not shy away from answering my questions about what his government thinks of the IHC verdict and how it will be able to bring Sharif back.

He replied that at first, Sharif had claimed to be suffering from a disease causing the platelet count in his blood to fall uncontrollably, but then he said he had a chronic heart ailment for which he needed treatment outside the country.

“Critical patients do not waste time, but it has been 11 months that Nawaz Sharif has been outside and he has not gone through any medical treatment,” Awan said. “He is always on about the high moral ground, and he claims he is standing with his people. Sharif also claims that he is being victimized by the courts and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and all the cases against him are fake.

“If he really means what he says, he should come back to Pakistan and surrender, as the only forum to prove his innocence are the courts in Pakistan.”

He said Sharif cannot have it both ways, applauding the courts if they give him relief while his party calls the same courts biased if a decision comes down against him.

“Since Sharif has become an absconder after the court verdict, he must return to the country as soon as possible, as he avoiding facing the courts, and living in self-exile is creating a bad impression of the country.”

When asked how the PTI government will be able to bring Sharif back to the country, Awan replied that it would use every single legal avenue available, and its efforts would be visible to everyone.

He noted that the Pakistani and British governments have extradition treaties with each other, and since Sharif is not a British citizen he will be sent back.

“We will share the court verdict with the British government and will demand that the authorities there hand over Sharif to us,” Awan said. “The IHC has already said that Sharif is not getting any treatment for a low platelet-cell count or a heart problem.”

This correspondent also asked Awan about PTI’s performance in the foreign-policy domain, and his answer was: “We have devised a very fair foreign policy. Look at what happened in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where Russia stood with us and overruled an Indian objection to showing our new map, in which Kashmir is shown as [an integral part of Pakistan].

“Likewise in the PML-N government, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were not happy with the vague policies of Sharif. Now not only Riyadh and the UAE but also Qatar are standing with us.

“Was not Washington asking us to do more all the time? But since our government came into power, US President Donald Trump is saying thanks to us, and he openly admits that Pakistan played a crucial role in the negotiations between the US and the Afghan Taliban.

“The Kashmir issue has been highlighted in the UN Security Council. Before us, the previous prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was part of the Dawn leaks, and you know that has been used against us in international courts and global forums.”

I asked why under the PTI regime journalists are harassed, police reports are lodged against them, they are abducted and the cybercrime law is used against them, and whether he thinks his government should not have not done these things. Awan was of the view that if any journalist thinks he is being framed, or facing a wrong police accusation, he can always go to the court. “We are not using any law against any journalist.

“In fact, if you recall once the senior journalist Najam Sethi was arrested, you will remember how the Jang newspaper was attacked through Saifur Rehman. Tell me any such incident that has happened under our regime.

“In fact, when we were in opposition we boycotted many TV channels, but from the day we came into power we have replied to every single media house. We accept criticism, and even knowing that particular propaganda and fake news are circulated against us, we have never charged any journalist in fake cases.”

What is the way forward?

Perhaps it is time for Sharif to make a decision, and he at least needs to open up by talking to the media and for his political party’s supporters to make clear what his current approach is, and why anyone should believe that after the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) surrendered to the pressure of invisible forces and ditched its own narrative of “respect the ballot” on numerous occasions it will not abandon the masses again.

Whether Sharif decides to talk or not is his own propagative, but one thing is certain: Unless he gives his version in his own words, it will not clear the air, and many in Pakistan who are not supporters of his party will continue to think he is silent because he has made a deal, or he actually is avoiding arrest and prefers to stay in London until the circumstances for his party become better in Pakistan.

However, in his absence, the PML-N team is only making surrender after surrender, and it actually is helping the PTI government pass bills in the National Assembly. In fact, most PML-N stalwarts are either distracted from the ground realities or under the leadership of Shahbaz Sharif are trying to reconcile with the invisible forces.

The country’s largest opposition party has not staged any protests on behalf of the masses, nor it is being vocal on human-rights violations. A political party that claims it is battling for democratic supremacy cannot afford a strategy that is vague and seems not very effective, as instead the PML-N is only waiting for PTI to get out of the good books of the powers that be so it can replace it in government.

Sharif for sure may have different plans, and given his political history it is likely that he will wait for the right time to strike back against his visible and invisible political opponents, but the question remains how much more turmoil the country will face in the meantime, and who will actually fight for the rights of the masses who are mere spectators in the game and bearing the brunt of the battle between Sharif and the invisible forces.

It is time for Sharif to decide whether he wants to lead the battle from the front or will drag the battle on longer, and instead of pursuing his case in the courts will wait for the right time. 

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.