PMLN takes U-turn on going abroad on health grounds

PMLN leaders are angry at the PTI government for not allowing Shehbaz Sharif to travel abroad on health grounds. However, this was not always their position. Perhaps they have forgotten what they used to say about Gen. Musharraf.

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On Saturday, Shehbaz Sharif, former Chief Minister of Punjab and leader of the opposition in Pakistan’s National Assembly was offloaded from a plane bound for the United Kingdom. Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) stopped the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) president from leaving the country after he was granted conditional permission to travel abroad once for medical treatment by the Lahore High Court (LHC).

However, the federal agency, FIA, argued that they have barred him from traveling because Mr. Sharif was not removed from their blacklist. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry defending the FIA by saying that the FIA Director General held the authority to add or remove a person’s name from the blacklist.

The government intends to appeal Court Decision on Shehbaz Sharif

“Shehbaz’s lawyers have not submitted any request to the DG FIA to remove [Shehbaz’s name] from the blacklist as per the court’s decision. The record cannot be changed based on verbal talks. Taking a veiled shot at the Lahore High Court he said: “The way Shehbaz Sharif was allowed to leave Pakistan is a reflection of our dilapidated system,” Country’s information minister said all that in a presser, along with Barrister Shahzad Akbar, PM’s Advisor on Accountability. He was referring to how notices seeking the removal of Mr. Sharif’s name were issued the same day as the case was heard.

Fawad Chaudhry also complained that the government was not given any opportunity to respond and made it clear that the government would appeal against the removal of Shehbaz Sharif’s name from the blacklist. “The government will move the court against this decision,” he tweeted.

What has irked many in the government, within PTI political circles and media is that the British government has made special exceptions for letting Shehbaz Sharif travel to London. Due to the pandemic, Britain has stopped all flights from Pakistan and Pakistani passport holders can neither be issued visas nor can they enter the UK.  Special treatment for Shehbaz Sharif has therefore raised eyebrows in many circles.

Viral Video reminds PMLN leadership that it has forgotten its own position

PMLN leadership appeared terribly upset because they argue that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government had no right to stop Shehbaz Sharif who is travelling to London for medical reasons. PMLN leaders argue that Mr. Sharif is a cancer survivor, and his initial treatment was done abroad, and he needs routine check-ups by his old doctors. PTI leaders counter their arguments by giving examples of Dr. Yasmin Rashid, Punjab’s health minister who is battling cancer but is seeking all her treatment inside the country.

PMLN leaders now believe that no one, even an accused, can be stopped from seeking treatment abroad. This “right to treatment” has become a huge political debate in recent years in Pakistan. However, a video montage gone viral on social media especially WhatsApp, reminds PMLN leaders that this has not been their stance when they were in power. Then they had argued against General (R) Pervaiz Musharraf’s traveling abroad to Dubai for cardiac diagnostics and treatment.

Video montage reminds its viewers that PMLN leaders had strongly opposed the travel abroad of any political figure under trial. Video shows that while referring to Pervaiz Musharraf, Pervaiz Rashid had said, “There is no law in Pakistan that allows the accused person to leave the country.”

Khawaja Saad Rafique, the then Railways Minister, had said, “Can we send all the prisoners in Pakistan for treatment abroad.” He had further said, Pakistan voted them into power to nab the criminals. He had asked Gen Musharraf to stop all the drama and courageously face Pakistani courts.

Ahsan Iqbal in a talk show pledged that he would resign and leave the politics forever if Mr. Musharraf was allowed to go abroad.

Read more: PMLN to Choose Between Money & Nawaz Sharif? – Maleeha Hashmey

How Nawaz left Pakistan?

However, that was PMLN’s position in 2014-15. Political events since then have compelled PMLN leaders to dramatically change their positions. In October and November of 2019, the Lahore High Court allowed former PM Nawaz Sharif, convicted by a NAB court and facing appeals in high courts, to travel abroad to London for treatment. After 18 months he is still in London – apparently without any convincing evidence of treatment.

PM Imran Khan’s government had been reluctant to release Mr. Sharif. It wanted the politician – who has so far served less than 12 months of a seven-year prison sentence – to sign an indemnity bond worth $44m (£34m) before allowing him to go abroad.

However, the court allowed him to travel without signing the bond.

Nawaz had been granted bail by the Islamabad High Court on humanitarian grounds in the Al Azizia case and by the Lahore High Court in the ongoing Chaudhry Sugar Mills case, in which he is a suspect.

Early this year, the federal government ordered Pakistan High Commission in London to demand evidence of treatment from Nawaz Sharif. The government demanded records of diagnostics, treatment implemented, details of any procedures done, copies of prescriptions by Nawaz’s doctors, and receipts of payments made to clinics and hospitals. To this day, Nawaz Sharif and his team have not provided those documents.

Read more: PMLN worker allegedly throws ink, egg at SAPM Shahbaz Gill

Given that Nawaz had been participating in political rallies by video links from London over the past several months, the government sources claim that he is heading PMLN’s agitational politics from London. And the federal government has not allowed the renewal of the passport of Nawaz Sharif for international travel, they say that he can be issued a travel document so that he can come back to face his pending cases.

Read more: PPP & PMLN leadership has darkened the future of their parties: Fawad Chaudhry

U-Turns are not a Khan Speciality?

PMLN leaders have always blamed PM Imran Khan as a “Master of U-Turns” however PMLN’s changing positions on the rights of accused and convicted to travel abroad for health grounds shows that such U-Turns are part of Pakistani politics – or perhaps politics everywhere.