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Govt betting on Sharifs undertaking with Saudis
 
In a do or die bid to block the Sharifs’ homecoming, the government will lay before the Supreme Court an “undertaking” given by the exiled leaders to Saudi Arabia before their December 10, 2000 departure from Pakistan. However, it is yet unclear if it is being done with or without Riyadh’s consent.

“The government would produce the document before the apex court on August 23rd, the next hearing of the petitions filed by Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif seeking their uninterrupted return,” Attorney General Justice (retd) Malik Muhammad Qayyum told The News, leaving no doubt about the last “bombshell” that the government wants to hurl against the popular exiled leaders.

It is not yet clear, however, as to how the Sharifs’ undertaking, which was the property of the Saudi government and not an accord between Islamabad and Riyadh, landed in the hands of Islamabad rulers.

A federal minister, who claimed to have seen the document, told this correspondent on condition of anonymity that the brotherly country provided the Sharifs’ undertaking to Islamabad after becoming “angry” with them.

However, sources close to the Sharifs claim that the Saudis have detached themselves from the affair and have no objection over the exiled leaders’ return to Pakistan. There exists no agreement between the Sharifs and the Government of Pakistan regarding their exile any timeframe for their return. However, the Sharifs’ undertaking given to the Saudi government through a mediator — Sa’ad al-Harrari — does reflect on the former rulers’ commitment not to return to Pakistan before a set deadline.

But this undertaking, both sides agree, only contained the signatures of the male members of the family in a note written on plain paper. It was not an accord between Islamabad and Riyadh as has already been confirmed by the Foreign Office although a government lawyer last week claimed before the SC that the FO is in possession of this document.

The Foreign Office spokesperson recently told The News that her ministry was not involved in the Sharifs’ “deportation” affair in the year 2000. Former President Muhammad Rafiq Tarar had also verified that he never ratified any Pak-Saudi accord on the Sharifs’ exile.

Interestingly, the four-page document, which was signed by the Sharifs on December 9, 2000 and reproduced by The News recently, does not give any hint of an understanding between Riyadh and the Sharifs. The document, which is the property of Government of Pakistan, also attaches no condition for remission of sentences to Nawaz Sharif.

The document was instead a petition addressed to the then president and signed by Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Abbas Sharif and Hussain Nawaz, seeking remission of the Nawaz’s sentences and the permission to go abroad for treatment. On the recommendation of the then Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, President Tarar had granted pardon to Nawaz on December 10. The same night the Sharifs were flown to Riyadh.

Although it is the court that will decide the legal standing of the Sharifs’ agreement with Riyadh and whether such an accord could throw cold water on their desire to return home, there is no clear word available if the Saudi government has allowed the Pakistan government to produce the Sharifs’ undertaking before the Supreme Court.

Another federal minister, on condition of not being named, claimed that the Sharif brothers had earned the anger of the Saudi rulers after they became active in politics as soon as they flew out of the country of their exile. It was Riyadh’s displeasure, the minister said, which prompted the Saudis to give the Sharifs’ undertaking document to the government of Pakistan.

The minister claimed that the Saudi rulers are not in favour of the Sharifs’ return to Pakistan before the set deadline of 10 years. However, the sources in the PML-N believe that the Sharifs, who had close relations with the Saudi rulers, are aware of the sensitivities involved and have taken care of them.

Some of these sources say that Nawaz Sharif must have taken the Saudi rulers into confidence before filing his constitutional petition before the Supreme Court. He is said to be still in contact with the rulers in Riyadh.

A source claimed that Musharraf during his August 3 meeting with King Abdullah had sought the latter’s intervention to bar Nawaz in particular from returning to Pakistan. However, according to the source, the Saudi monarch did not show much interest in the matter. It also states that the president was willing to welcome the senior Sharif but only after the upcoming general elections.

According to a PML-N source, almost a week after the Abdullah-Musharraf meeting, the Sharif brothers decided to knock the door of the Supreme Court for their return. He believed that during this interlude, the Sharifs took the Saudi rulers into confidence about their legal battle with the Musharraf regime.

Even many in the government believe that Nawaz Sharif would not return to Pakistan without the blessings of the Saudi king. Besides his relations, a minister said, Nawaz could not dare to earn the displeasure of the Saudi rulers for the reason that the Sharifs now have huge business interests in that country.

“The Saudi government does not believe in interfering in the internal affairs of a brotherly and friendly country like Pakistan,” is the only official reaction that has come from any Saudi authority on the issue in a recent Saudi embassy Islamabad statement in response to a newspaper report.

21-08-2007 10:36 Online News
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