WASHINGTON DC, July 26, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Sharif's Hard Stance Against Musharraf Cost Him His Passport

By M. Afzal Khan

ISLAMABAD, July 26: The question of issuance of passports to exiled premier Nawaz Sharif and his spouse looked like a done deal a couple of weeks ago.

All pronouncements from the Government during the first few days emphasized the right of every Pakistani to secure a passport. Nawaz Sharif could not be an exception. It was too good to believe and yet most people thought that the Government would honor this commitment to the law.

Things have, however, gone awry much to the frustration of Mr. Sharif who, out of disgust, has now decided not to send his son-in-law, Capt. Safdar, to Pakistani diplomats in Jeddah to hear excuses on daily basis for being unable to take a decision. He says he will wait for it for the time being and in the meantime contemplate a court option.

As first step towards that the PML-N has sent to the Chief Justice of Pakistan the copy of the letter Mr. Safdar had written to the Consul General in Jeddah.

What went wrong is a matter of speculation. Relevant official circles attribute it to Nawaz Sharif’s hard hitting telephonic speech to PML-N leadership in Lahore on July 2 in which he repudiated the thought of even sitting with Musharraf for a dialogue or to accept for unification of the PML those people who betrayed the party. He continued with this theme and tone in subsequent speeches during the week.

PML-N leaders reject this explanation as a lame excuse. “If that is the main reason for refusing the passport, it reflects only a petty mind,” says Sardar Ayaz Sadiq MNA. “How cold you violate the legal and constitutional right of a citizen of the country just because he said something to the distaste of one person.”

Some incorrigible optimists in the PML-N and the appropriate diplomatic circles here still believe that the process has not derailed but only deferred. The original arrangement being talked about would have had Nawaz’s mother and some other family members return to Pakistan while Nawaz would have traveled to London.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who largely reflects President Musharraf’s thinking, now says that Mr. Nawaz Sharif will not come to Pakistan. Shahbaz Sharif’s, however, is a different case. He blames Nawaz Sharif for being a major hurdle in the return of his younger brother.

Many interesting developments have taken place since the leak that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah may play a role in bringing about a Musharraf-Nawaz rapprochement, Government’s belated and warped denial notwithstanding. Nawaz applied for issuance of the passport while Government’s initial response seemed very positive. The exiled premier also began a series of telephonic addresses to party activists for the first time in four and a half years.

Without confirming or denying the report, Sheikh Rashid was quoted in the media that if he was to reveal the terms on which Nawaz wants to return, it would take the entire country by a storm. The PML circles insist that the initiative to involve the Saudis came from Nawaz and not Musharraf. But it is widely acknowledged that the Saudis have great sympathy for the Sharifs and would like to do something to end their present ordeal.

It is also admitted that even the speculation of a possible understanding between Musharraf and Nawaz or Benazir sends alarm bells in the ruling party creating a scare that the entire edifice built on quicksand of Establishment’s support and needs would collapse. This was publicly conceded by PML Chief Choudhry Shujaat Hussain when Asif Zardari was stopped from staging a spectacular return last April amid wide-spread perception that it enjoyed President Musharraf’s nod. The report about impending Saudi intervention sent similar shock waves, though Shujaat who was part of Musharraf’s Saudi trip, uncharacteristically kept a discreet silence before and after the publication of the story.

The Government statement which came late by four days had some interesting elements. It rebounded to Nawaz Sharif’s impulsive statement of July 2 using the same tough language and tone. His name was not even mentioned during the meeting between Saudi and Pakistani “officials”, it said. The use of the expression ‘officials” is intriguing. The meeting was held between Musharraf and Crown Prince Abdullah and not any officials. While one may look like splitting hair, it is not clear whether it was an oversight or a deliberate attempt at subterfuge.

Significantly the Government mentioned for the first time that under a ‘deal” Nawaz Sharif cannot leave Saudi Arabia for 10 years. Nawaz Sharif has always denied having signed such a deal. The Government has also failed to produce any document though its apologists say that the sensitivity of involvement of the Saudi royal family is the major restraint.

President Musharraf once waved a paper to a group of journalists but did not let them see the signatures. However, in support of his contention that Sharifs willingly left for Jeddah, Musharraf has been telling journalists to see the TV clips of the departure scenes to ascertain how happy they were.

On another occasion when Shujaat was confronted with the question whether the document bears the signatures of Nawaz Sharif and the Crown Prince, he retorted: ”Do you think the princes go about putting their signatures on documents?” PML-N circles say the only known document on the issue is the then President Rafiq Tarar’s grant of amnesty, apparently on a petition..Interestingly, the immigration authorities did not put the exit stamp on passports of the family members when they left for Jeddah.

It is also no secret that irrespective of their own regard and ties with Nawaz Sharif, the Saudis has acted at the prompting of the then US President Bill Clinton. The former American President is on record indirectly sharing part of the blame for Nawaz Sharif’s downfall by sponsoring a retreat from Kargil. US diplomats who acknowledge this role, also say Clinton had developed a liking for Nawaz Sharif in his very first meeting.

After Sharif left the room, Clinton told his National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger: “He is a simple and down-to-earth man”. These diplomats, however, insist that there is no American role in the current passport issue.

Legal experts put a different tack to the so-called deal. There is no provision in the Constitution to send anybody into exile. Even if there be any agreement between Sharif and the Government, it is illegal and not binding. The Supreme Court has ruled that no citizen can be prevented from returning to his country. There is also another question. How can any member of a family enter into an illegal agreement condemning the entire family to a life of exile?

The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He writes for The Nation and Khaleej Times.

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