Shortly after Shahbaz Sharif's forced deportation from Lahore airport in May 2004, I was informed by a senior local journalist that he had been shown - by a senior ISI officer in Islamabad - the purported written agreement which allowed the Sharif family to secure their exile to Saudi Arabia.
At the time of the deportation there was much public debate on whether such an agreement actually did exist or not. One can therefore assume that the intelligence agency was only too eager to provide proof of its existence to a number of influential journalists.
Here is a potted account of what really happened:
After being overthrown Nawaz Sharif soon found himself being tried in an anti-terrorist court on charges that included hijacking, attempted murder and terrorism. His friends and mentors in the Saudi royal family became perturbed when they leant that the government was seeking the death penalty against the deposed Prime Minister.
In April 2002 when the court sentenced Nawaz Sharif to life imprisonment on two charges of hijacking and terrorism, the government filed an appeal against the life sentence by once more demanding a death penalty.
Worried, the Saudis wanted to be reassured by Musharraf that the deposed prime minister would not meet the same fate as his predecessor ZA Bhutto.
Despite the personal declaration given by Musharraf during one his trips to Riyadh, it appears that the Saudis remained far from convinced that the general would not seek ultimate vengeance from Nawaz Sharif for attempting to sack him.
The Saudis resolved the issue by pressurising Musharraf into accepting a deal whereby Nawaz Sharif would be released by Musharraf on the condition that he and his family would live in exile in Saudi Arabia for a 10 year period. And so on the 9th December 2000, Nawaz Sharif along with his family left for Jeddah on a Royal Saudi plane.
From all accounts it appears that the deal between Musharraf and the Saudis had initially been a verbal one. However, subsequently when Musharraf came under local media pressure to explain the deal he took the precautionary measure of requesting the Saudis to confirm the deal in writing. And so a document was prepared and delivered to the general.
And what exactly was the document?
The journalist who saw document said that it consisted of a few papers on the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry’s letterhead listing out a number of conditions which are signed by Nawaz Sharif and countersigned by Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi Minister of the Interior.
For the record Prince Nayaf happens to be one of the powerful Sudairi Seven, seven close-knit sons of King ibn Saud. The Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, and Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the Governor of Riyadh, are among the others.
From a purely legal perspective, while the signed papers issued in Saudi Arabia are evidence that some sort a deal may have existed between the Saudis and Nawaz Sharif, they will have little legal validity in Pakistan or for that matter under the law of any other country (with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia).
In view of this, it is likely therefore that the Supreme Court will recognise Nawaz Sharif’s right as a citizen of Pakistan to return to his homeland.
It is no wonder that after his meeting with Benazir Bhutto in Dubai in late July, Musharraf flew to Saudi Arabia to ask King Abdullah to use his influence to stop Nawaz Sharif from returning to Pakistan; a request that the King is believed to have politely declined.
Having given hope of preventing Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif from returning to Pakistan on the basis of the Saudi agreement, the regime petitioned the National Accountability Court at Rawalpindi on 3 August to reopen three cases against the two Sharif brothers and their family, which had been filed with the court in 2000 and 2001.
It should be recalled that after the Sharif family’s departure to Saudi Arabia these particular cases had been closed at regime’s request.
The three cases were related to:
1. Hudaibiya Paper Mill
2. Ittefaque Foundries
3. The Sharif family’s 50 acre real estate in Raiwind
According to the prosecution these cases involve charges of ‘willful default, financial irregularities and holding of property beyond known sources of income ' against Sharif and his family members.
Yesterday the National Accountability Court ruled that these cases can be opened, which means that Nawaz Sharif, as well as his brother, could be arrested the moment they return.
Your Blogger’s guess is this court ruling will be challenged in the High Court of Punjab at the earliest opportunity.