Cabinet decides not to appeal court order allowing Sharif to leave Pakistan

Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs meeting of the Federal Cabinet at PM Office Islamabad on 19th November, 2019. (PID Photo)
Updated 20 November 2019

Cabinet decides not to appeal court order allowing Sharif to leave Pakistan

  • Accountability process is for everyone, says the law minister
  •  Government says collecting data to provide relief to elderly prisoners

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s federal cabinet decided on Tuesday it would not appeal a court verdict that allowed the country’s ailing former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to travel abroad for medical treatment.

“The cabinet has decided not to file an immediate appeal against a Lahore High Court verdict,” Federal Minister for Law Farogh Naseem said while addressing a news conference in Islamabad.

The Lahore High Court on Saturday permitted Sharif to leave Pakistan for four weeks on medical grounds, without imposing any other conditions. The court said he could also apply for an extension to the bail period if his treatment required him to stay abroad for a longer duration.

69-year-old three-time premier, Sharif on Tuesday left for London on an air ambulance. He is suffering from an autoimmune blood disorder and was recently released on an eight-week medical bail from a prison facility in Lahore where he was serving a seven-year sentence on corruption charges.

The former prime minister, who has dominated Pakistan’s politics for about three decades, denies all corruption allegations against him, claiming they are politically motivated.

The government of Sharif’s rival, Prime Minister Imran Khan, had earlier said it would not stand in the way, though it demanded him to pay indemnity bonds of seven billion Pakistani rupees last week, which Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), immediately rejected.

After days of political deadlock, the court has granted the PML-N founding leader four weeks to receive treatment after getting an undertaking from him and his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif that he would return to Pakistan soon after his medical recovery.

“We respect the court’s verdict …. The Pakistan High Commission in London and the British government will be informed about Nawaz Sharif’s illness and stay over there [for medical treatment],” the law minister said.

He added that the court would decide about the indemnity bond in January while clarifying that Prime Minister Khan did not have any personal “agenda” against the opposition. “We believe in accountability for all …. There is a need to make the criminal justice system more effective,” he continued.

Naseem said the government was collecting data of elderly and other prisoners involved in petty crime and “the cabinet will review all the cases [to provide them legal relief].”

Earlier in the day, in a veiled reference to Sharif’s departure to London for medical treatment, National Accountability Bureau Chairman Javed Iqbal said that while multiple people were sharing a single hospital bed in the country, there were others who were going abroad – “London or the US” – for treatment “even when they caught a cold.”

“Are the rest of us not humans …. God has created everyone equal,” he said while speaking at an event in Islamabad.


Sindh cabinet approves bill to restore student unions

Updated 10 December 2019

Sindh cabinet approves bill to restore student unions

  • Document will now be tabled in the provincial assembly for approval
  • Student representatives call it a huge victory, urge earliest implementation

KARACHI: The government in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh lifted a 35-year-old ban on student unions on Monday by approving a bill for the restoration of the same which representatives termed as a huge victory.

Murtaza Wahab, Sindh government’s spokesperson, said that the bill will be presented before the provincial assembly during the ongoing session.

“Sindh cabinet has approved the draft bill for restoration and regulation of student unions in the province. Bill will be laid before the Sindh Assembly in the ongoing session,” Wahab tweeted on Monday.

“The cabinet has made some changes to the draft. When it will go to the assembly there will be more changes. The standing committee will also consult different stakeholders before giving it a final shape,” Information Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News, adding that the bill has been drafted keeping in mind the guidelines provided by the Supreme Court’s in 1993.

“The union can be a seven to 11 member body. Both government and private educational institutions will be bound to hold elections of the unions,” Ghani said.

The student unions were banned by military dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haq on February 9, 1984 and briefly revived by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1989 but blocked once again by the Supreme Court in 1993 before any elections could be held.

In 2008, former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had given his approval for the elections but none could be held throughout his tenure.

Student representatives welcomed the development on Monday.

Ammar Rashid, who was at the forefront of the Students Solidarity March, said due credit goes to the marchers.

“This is a huge victory for Pakistan and its people,” Rashid told Arab News.

Ashir Saleem, leader of Islami Jamiat Talaba, said that his organization welcomed the development.

“The Sindh government has taken a highly-needed step, which should have been taken since long,” Saleem told Arab News, adding that his organization had been protesting every year on February 9 since the ban was initiated in 1984.

A former union president, however, added a caveat.

“I doubt the intentions of the government. When you take a really good step but without preparations, you want to fail it,” Professor Shakeel Farooqi, president of the last student union in Karachi University in 1984, told Arab News.

“I have serious reservations.”

Farooqi said when universities were established in Pakistan it was ensured that these institutions must be based on the principle of democracy.

“There were not only student unions, student councils and departmental student societies but the dean of faculty would also be elected,” Farooqi, who has also served as President of the Karachi University Teachers’ Society (KUTS), said, adding that thee first dent in the university’s democratic culture was made by former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who put an end to the elections of the Dean’s office and the final blow came from General Zia-ul-Haq banned the unions in 1984.

“The political parties, whether the left’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the right’s Jamaat-e-Islami, didn’t support us although the students struggled for their right irrespective of their backgrounds. Both the leftists and rightists jointly struggled,” Farooqi said, adding that the ban has affected nine generations in the past 35 years.

“There is a dearth of leadership today and the intolerant behavior we see in parliament and on TV talk shows is the reflection of the loss due to ban on student unions,” Farooqi said, adding that “unions create leadership.”

Rashid, for his part, urged the Sindh government to take into account the students’ feedback before passing the bill into law.

“Sindh government has taken the lead and I am hopeful that others will follow. If other provinces don’t restore unions, the students would go to the courts for taking their due right,” he said.