Nawaz Sharif returns amid varied speculations

ISLAMABAD: Deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif landed in the federal capital on Tuesday night from Riyadh amid conflicting reports regarding Sharif brothers ‘real’ motive to visit Saudi Arabia.

The sudden departure of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia last week gave rise to the reports that another National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was in the making and Riyadh was playing a key role to facilitate this presumed deal between the Sharif family and the security establishment.

Shehbaz’s departure to Saudi Arabia was followed by that of his elder brother which further gave credence to the reports that something was being cooked in the kingdom.

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The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has strongly denied any kind of deal. But the matter is shrouded in mystery amidst multiple assumptions attempting to justify the rationale behind the visit.

Political analyst and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) former secretary Kanwar Dilshad has a different opinion. “It was a business trip,” he said of the Sharif brothers Saudi Arabi’s visit.

“It wasn’t about politics—monetary matters were discussed there. Not to forget that Sharif family, during its exile made billions of rupees investment in Saudi Arabia and other countries.  They have large properties and huge wealth in the kingdom that needs to be taken care of.”

Dilshad dismissed the possibility of a Saudi Arabia–brokered deal between Sharifs and power centres in Pakistan saying the Saudis did not trust the Sharifs anymore after the latter broke a previous accord.

“Sharif brothers struck an infamous yet covert deal with former dictator Pervez Musharraf that allowed them to go into exile, stay in Saudi Arabia and not to return for 10 years. That deal was facilitated by a Saudi prince who was the kingdom’s intelligence chief, then.

“But Sharifs broke the deal and returned to Pakistan when they found a chance in 2007 and took part in politics.  Despite Sharif family’s business empire in the kingdom, Saudis trust the Sharifs no more as far as facilitating a deal is concerned,” he told The Express Tribune.

Former PM’s daughter Maryam Nawaz tweeted on Tuesday that Sharif would return to Pakistan on Tuesday night after performing Umrah. Both the Sharif brothers held important yet low-key meetings with Saudi royalties including Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, party circles claimed.

Shehbaz’s departure to Saudi Arabia ahead of his elder brother and that too reportedly in a ‘special’ plane sent by the kingdom had set the rumour mills running that since Shehbaz was announced by the former PM as his ‘successor’ and designated candidate for the premiership, he went to Saudi Arabia to mobilise the support of the House of Sauds.

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Other reports suggested that the Saudi rulers possibly advised the Nawaz to soften his stance on establishment and judiciary and not to stride the collision course, as advised by Shehbaz.  Reports also suggest that the elder Sharif was advised to take a backseat and allow Shehbaz to stay at the forefront.

Some party elements, however, believe that it would be too early to assume that Shehbaz would be the successor of the elder Sharif. These sources said Sharif brothers’ Saudi Arabia’s visit aimed at seeking Riyadh’s support in dealing with the multifaceted crisis the PML-N and Sharif family are faced with.

A senior party leader, requesting anonymity, argued that Nawaz’s visit to Saudi Arabia took place due to the efforts of Shehbaz. “The way Shehbaz was welcomed in the kingdom and the way he carried out the visit clearly shows that he meant business and so did the Saudis—that Shehbaz is the next in line for premiership and he was out there to seek Riyadh’s blessings.”

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