Shehbaz Sharif departs for Saudi Arabia to perform ‘Umrah’
Sources say Punjab CM making hectic efforts to win support from KSA for relief from cases
ISLAMABAD: In a surprise move, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday left for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on a special plane sent by the royal family of KSA.
Though sources in the Punjab government said the chief minister would be performing Umrah, the junior Sharif would also hold important meetings with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS)and other senior officials.
“Punjab CM Shehbaz Sharif has left for Saudi Arabia today on a special plane sent by the Saudi government. He will perform Umrah besides holding important meetings there,” said an official handout issued by Punjab government.
— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) December 27, 2017
The departure of Shehbaz Sharif comes on the heels of the information that the PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif had nominated Punjab CM as his candidate for the top slot in 2018 elections. Soon afterwards, Shehbaz Sharif met with the envoys of top 16 countries in Lahore. Saudi ambassador also held an important meeting with Punjab chief minister only three days back.
The sudden departure of Shehbaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia has triggered speculations about a possibility of another National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) for Sharif family, as elections are around the corner.
Shehbaz Sharif—who had recently been shuttling between Rawalpindi and London to broker ceasefire between the military establishment and Nawaz Sharif—has long been advocating his elder brother and party chief to observe restraint and not to attack the state institutions.
However, his advice has only found some audience as Nawaz Sharif now has shifted his focus on the superior courts of the country, targeting the judiciary for his disqualification as member of the parliament.
Pakistan Today contacted several leaders of the PML-N, but no party stalwart responded.
Though no PML-N leader agreed to speak on the record over the sudden departure of Shehbaz Sharif, an informed source said that the junior Sharif was making hectic efforts to win support from Saudi Arabia for a safe passage for his family.
The source said that during their recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had sought assistance from Saudi royal family in terms of provision of oil on deferred payment mode.
The source said that the Saudi government has sent a discreet message to all and sundry by sending a special plane for Shehbaz Sharif—which reflected that the Saudi royals still treated Sharif family as their trusted lieutenants in Pakistan.
“Shehbaz Sharif must be seeking some NRO-like deal with the help of Saudi royals, as they did back in 2001 to rescue Nawaz Sharif. The possible safe passage Sharifs may be looking at includes slowing down of cases against Nawaz Sharif and no court verdict till general elections 2018,” the sources said, adding that Sharifs were pinning their hopes on the Saudi royal family.
The source said that the Saudi royal family may also influence to facilitate movement of Nawaz Sharif between London and Lahore besides some facilitation in NAB cases against him.
When contacted, Lt Gen (retd) Amjad Shoaib said that there was no truth in reports of behind the scenes efforts for a deal with Nawaz Sharif.
“The armed forces have no role whatsoever to play in this regard. Army leadership is focused on professional matters right now,” he concluded.