After failing to bring Nawaz Sharif back through the diplomatic route, the government is now banking on Nawaz Sharif’s deportation. The government believes that the chances of deportation are high once Nawaz Sharif is stripped of his Pakistani passport. However, government ministers recognize that Nawaz Sharif has the option of seeking asylum, or even moving to a brotherly Islamic country instead.
Cancelled, or expired?
Nawaz Sharif’s continued presence in the United Kingdom, alongside his political statements from the streets of London, has been a constant thorn in the side of the government. Unsurprisingly, the government has been constantly trying to get him back to Pakistan, by any means necessary.
In the latest scheme to bring him to Pakistan, Sheikh Rasheed announced on Wednesday that the government will cancel the former Prime Minister’s passport on February 16. Responding to a question, the Interior Minister jokingly said that he wasn’t even sure of Nawaz Sharif’s passport expiration date.
However, Barrister Shahzad Akbar, Advisor to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior, does know the date. In a TV interview last week he said Nawaz Sharif’s passport will expire on February 16, 2021.
Which begs the question, is the government cancelling is passport, or is it expiring anyway?
What comes after February 16?
Shahzad Akbar said the government is pleading its case in the United Kingdom (UK), arguing that Nawaz Sharif has violated his visa conditions.
He said that the government has recently raised Nawaz Sharif’s case with the UK’s home minister; asking him to take action against Nawaz Sharif under their own immigration laws, which he has violated. Nawaz Sharif has been addressing political rallies across Pakistan from London. Furthermore, he argued that Nawaz Sharif has been in the UK on a visit visa that was acquired on health and humanitarian grounds. Yet, he has utilised the visit visa’s maximum limit — which is 185 days — and is now applying for extension to the visa.
Since no extradition treaty exists between the UK and Pakistan – nor is the British government interested in signing one – deportation seems to be the only way to bring the opposition leader back.
However, deportation comes with its own challenges. Shahzad Akbar raised the concern that Nawaz Sharif could go to litigation in the UK courts to seek asylum. He said if the UK decided to deport Nawaz Sharif, then he has the option of pleading asylum. Considering the political and legal troubles that await him back in Pakistan, he might be able to make a case claiming political victimisation.
As a result, many in the government have wondered; is Nawaz Sharif taking a strong stance against the establishment to make a case for asylum?
The Arabian angle
Rumours circulating in political circles allege that the deal concocted during Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship, is now being offered to the government, in which Nawaz Sharif would go to Saudi Arabia and remain inactive in politics for a certain period. Nawaz Sharif had breached that deal with Musharraf, which was guaranteed by foreign countries, and came back to Pakistan after five years instead of completing 10 years of exile.
Shahzad Akbar admitted that he has also heard news of Nawaz Sharif moving to Saudi Arabia. However, he claimed after cancellation of his passport it would not be possible for him to do so.
Political circles have also linked the strained relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to this context. Saudi Arabia recently demanded the immediate repayment of its loans to Pakistan, which was an unprecedented move from the “brotherly” country.
Despite efforts, there is no thaw in the bilateral relationship, as government sources indicate that Prime Minister Imran Khan may visit Saudi Arabia next month. Will Nawaz Sharif’s exile be a topic of conversation remains to be seen.
It seems that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) now believes that the PML-N supremo may stay abroad or cut a deal to remain inactive for some time as well.
PPP has recently changed it tune quite abruptly and has become far more cautious. First they announced participation in the Senate elections, then made a long march on Islamabad conditional on Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan. PPP’s condition has surprised many, as people are aware that Nawaz Sharif cannot come to Pakistan willingly in the presence of the current government.
Former President Asif Ali Zardari, in the past has told the media that Sharif family cannot bear staying behind bars. Zardari, who has spent more than 11 years in jail, has been quoted in the media saying that the Sharif family will cut the deal to stay out of jail.
Uncertain times ahead for the opposition
The next one and half months are a testing time for Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) workers. If Nawaz Sharif gets asylum in the UK, their politics would take a different turn; a leader exiled permanently, running his party from a foreign nation.
The leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement had run his party for 25 years over the phone; no one in the government would want a repeat of that scenario.
However, if the rumours of Nawaz Sharif cutting a deal and moving to Saudi Arabia in political obscurity prove to be true, opposition politics will be left rudderless.
All now depends on the United Kingdom’s decision.