Pakistan government, opposition deny ‘deal’ to bring convicted ex-PM home


ISLAMABAD: Pakistani government and opposition officials said on Sunday that they were not negotiating any deal for the return of convicted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been in London since November 2019, after being granted eight-week medical bail.

The country’s key opposition leader, Sharif, 72, has dominated Pakistan’s politics for three decades and thrice served as its premier. He was removed from office by a Supreme Court order in 2017 amid revelations over his personal wealth.

In December 2018, he was convicted of corruption and sentenced to seven years in jail. He has consistently denied the accusations, saying they were politically motivated. Granted medical bail for treatment in London in 2019, Sharif has not returned to the country where he is facing non-bailable arrest warrants.

In August 2021, Britain’s Home Office refused to extend Sharif’s stay in the country on medical grounds — a decision the former prime minister has appealed via immigration tribunal.

After last week’s local media rumors over a “secret deal” between the Pakistani government and Sharif to bring him back home, State Minister for Information Broadcasting Farrukh Habib told Arab News there were no such negotiations.

“Not at all,” he said. “Law will take its course.” “He is an absconder, declared by courts. Lifetime disqualified by Supreme Court.”

Ahsan Iqbal, secretary general of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, also denied the rumors.

“There is no deal being negotiated with (the) government on the return of Nawaz Sharif. All the debate is speculative and sponsored by (the) government to divert attention from real issues faced by the public,” he told Arab News.

Iqbal added the rumors were meant to divert attention from a supplementary finance bill, popularly known as the mini-budget, which was passed last week, ending tax exemptions on nearly 150 items as a prior action for the revival of a $6 billion loan program from the International Monetary Fund.

The other condition of the IMF was to grant complete autonomy to the central bank through amendments in the State Bank of Pakistan Amendment Bill 2021. The government has tabled the revised bill amid accusations from the opposition that it was “selling” the country to the IMF.

“The government wanted to divert attention from (the) mini-budget and (the) state bank’s autonomy law, so they raised debate on this issue,” Iqbal said.

He said there were no current plans for Sharif’s return to Pakistan.

“He is in (the) United Kingdom on the doctor’s advice and will come back when his doctors will allow him. He is there on medical condition and will come back as soon as his doctors will give him permission.”