LAHORE - Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday, amid reports that the kingdom was active to broker a deal between him and Pakistan’s military establishment.
Earlier in the evening he flew from Lahore for Madinah, from where he would fly in a special plane to Riyadh today to meet the royals – including Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.
According to a British newspaper, the embattled leader of the ruling party would escape the corruption trial and be allowed to live in exile under a potential agreement being brokered by the Saudis.
Some close associates of Nawaz, like Railways Minister Saad Rafique, and his younger brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, are already in Saudi Arabia.
But the PML-N ministers have outrightly denied reports that Sharifs were in KSA for any NRO-like bailout for the ruling family. They maintained that purpose of the visit was to ponder over the issues facing the Muslim Ummah.
The opposition parties however are not convinced. They smelled a rat when National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua, who is a retired army officer, held almost a five-hour long meeting with Nawaz at his Lahore residence on Thursday. Their suspicions have grown deeper now when both the Sharifs have gathered in the KSA.
UK PAPER Report
Monitoring Desk adds: Sunday Times reported on Saturday that Saudi Arabia appears ready to intervene in the standoff between the head of Pakistan’s longest ruling political dynasty and the military establishment.
Nawaz Sharif, who requires permission to leave Pakistan, is ready to quit active politics, the report said, quoting an anonymous source. The former PM would escape the corruption trial and be allowed to live in exile under the potential deal, it maintained.
The newspaper said Nawaz has been forced [by the military establishment] to change his preferred line of political succession, naming his brother Shehbaz Sharif as heir to his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in place of his daughter.
Nawaz Sharif, who has been prime minister three times, was earlier forced from power in July when the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding office, after which a series of corruption cases were opened against him and his family.
He [however] has not gone down without a fight. His political machine, headed by his daughter Maryam Nawaz, has persistently criticised the army for being behind the judiciary’s moves. As a result, civil-military tension in Pakistan has escalated.
NSA Nasser Janjua, acting as an intermediary between the military and the government, confirmed he had a meeting with Nawaz Sharif on Thursday.
Janjua declined to confirm or deny suggestions that Nawaz Sharif had been offered a backroom deal, but told The Times that he would “never be a part of or party to any conspiracy against the great state of Pakistan”.
Riyadh has long played peace broker between Nawaz Sharif and the military. After the 1999 coup Mr Sharif depended on the goodwill of the Saudi authorities to bypass prison, even execution, and remain in exile for eight years.
The Saudis are indicating that they await a final sign-off from the Pakistani military. Shehbaz Sharif, an Arabic speaker seen as an ally of the Pakistani military, arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday on a Saudi plane sent to fetch him from Pakistan.