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Nawaz Sharif’s Departure And The ECL Conundrum

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For quite some time, in the see-sawing saga of whether Nawaz Sharif would be allowed to go abroad or not, it seemed the failing health of the three time prime minister Sharif was enough to convince, if not jolt, Imran Khan that the time for doing politics over matters of health was over. And it seemed evident that the government would let him fly abroad.

But in yet another twist to the gripping real life political drama of palace, some cabinet members reportedly opposed the removal of former PM’s name from the no-fly list. The PTI government managed to create a political crisis out of nothing. It has to be said that those who call themselves elected owe their ‘election’ in a large measure to the electoral engineering/rigging before and on the Election Day in 2018. Such blatant rigging was never experienced by Pakistanis before. 

With economy collapsing, dissenting voices getting emboldened on electronic media courtesy, amongst other factors, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman’s Azadi March – the seemingly willful prevarication by the PTI government over allowing Nawaz Sharif to go abroad for medical treatment is looking increasingly criminal, in the political sense, of course.

Although legally speaking, the question of leaving the country for a convict on bail who has already deposited surety bonds in order to avail the facility of bail is quite straightforward, yet it seems those political ‘millennials’ are hell-bent on trashing the lessons learnt by our beleaguered nation in the Bhutto family saga.

As a young lawyer, I once asked Abdul Hafeez Peerzada, the veteran lawyer and a politician of the pre 1977 era, what he thought of Bhutto’s hanging at the hands of General Zia and the then pliant superior judiciary. His answer shook me to the core when he alluded (with a painful sigh, I remember) to the permanent schism that Bhutto’s treatment had created in the society. Since then the country has been divided into pro-military and anti-military sections. One wonders whether it’s time to bury the hatchet and move on instead of mindlessly creating yet another deadly schism which a near bankrupt Pakistan can ill afford.

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Legally speaking, the government’s argument for requiring Nawaz Sharif to execute a bond before going abroad was baseless, as has been correctly ruled by the Lahore High Court today. Quite apart from the fact that there is no provision in the Exit Control List Ordinance 1981 coming to the government’s rescue in terms of furnishing the so called bond as a requirement to go abroad, the case of Rauf Kadri, the ex-president of Bankers Equity Limited is quite instructive in this regard.

Mr Kadri was allowed to go abroad to perform Umrah and to seek medical treatment by the High Court of Sindh despite having being convicted in five separate cases under the NAB law. Like in the Kadri case (2007 YLR 560), a simple undertaking to return after getting proper medical treatment during a one time journey signed by Shehbaz Sharif should have sufficed as has been held by the Lahore High Court.

Let us hope and pray Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan soon after getting a clean bill of health from his doctors in London.

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