Shehbaz to ‘pay’ for Nawaz’s prolonged absence

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—Cabinet approves action against PML-N President

—Rules out lockdown option amid rising COVID cases 

—Directs measures to organise tourism sector

—EVMs to be provided to ECP before April 15

By Asghar Ali Mubarak

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet decided on Tuesday that it would approach the Lahore High Court (LHC) to seek disqualification of the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif for submitting a ‘fake affidavit” and over his failure to bring his brother – convicted former premier Nawaz Sharif – back to Pakistan from London.

In the press conference after the cabinet’s meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said that the government, through the attorney general for Pakistan, will request the court to direct Shehbaz to either take steps to bring his brother back or be disqualified for submitting a fake affidavit, which is a violation of Article 63 of the Constitution.

The federal information minister said that the cabinet has given a go-ahead for seeking legal action against the PML-N President as he had guaranteed the return of his brother after receiving medical treatment from abroad within a stipulated time, but that has not happened.

“Shehbaz was fully involved in sending Nawaz Sharif abroad,” the minister said, adding the drama that was staged over Nawaz’s health was false.

Terming the ex-premier’s departure a ‘fraud’, Fawad said that the three-time ex-PM allegedly got no treatment abroad in the last 17 months and the medical reports that he sent to the Punjab government were rejected because they didn’t match the previous reports.

In November 2019, Nawaz had left the country after he signed a court-approved undertaking, saying that he would return to the country within four weeks. Shehbaz too had signed an undertaking, that stated he would “ensure the return” of his brother “within four weeks or on certification by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return back to Pakistan”.

Nawaz was allowed to leave the country for a period of four weeks, extendable on the basis of medical reports. Back then, the government had agreed to allow Nawaz to travel abroad, with the condition that indemnity bonds amounting to Rs7-7.5 billion be furnished.

The PML-N had rejected the condition and had taken the matter to the LHC, which ordered the federal government to remove Nawaz’s name from the Exit Control List without any conditions.

He left for London after he was released on bail from a seven-year sentence for corruption. Later, upon his failure to appear before different courts, he was declared a proclaimed offender.

The government now believes that Nawaz was staying in London despite being healthy and should therefore, be brought back.

Meanwhile, the information minister said that the cabinet after being briefed about the Covid-19 situation has expressed the resolve to not impose lockdowns this time around, keeping the country’s economic situation in view.

Explaining that vaccine worth $2 billion has so far been used, Fawad hoped there would be no need for a lockdown this time around.

At the outset, Fawad said that the prime minister and the cabinet expressed sorrow over the Murree tragedy, saying action would be taken once the inquiry committee submits its report in seven days.

While providing details of the incident, Fawad said that roughly 164,000 vehicles entered Murree, and people in only five vehicles died after inhaling carbon monoxide when they were stuck on a road between Guldana and Bariyan during a snowstorm.

While expressing sorrow and grief over the deaths, the information minister pointed out that Pakistan was witnessing a revolution in the tourism sector, and the relevant authorities should stay alert to cope up with an increasing number of tourists visiting different areas as the British-era system can’t accommodate a large number of people.

He said the cabinet has tasked the premier’s special assistant on tourism to apprise the cabinet of measures taken to organise the tourism sector.

Fawad said that the PTI government was developing 13 new cities or tourist spots, saying not a single one was developed in the last 75 years. He said that over 100,000 people had visited Kumrat Valley when the premier had shared photos of his visit before even becoming the prime minister.

Among other decisions, Fawad said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would be provided Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) before April 15, as ECP has said that local bodies’ elections should be held on April 15. He said that EVMs would be provided to ECP so that the next LG election could be conducted via EVMs.

Moreover, the minister said that a housing project on 400 kanal land was being launched for the overseas Pakistanis, saying it would have roughly 6,000 apartments and houses. Sharing the purpose of the scheme, he said that all the overseas Pakistanis who have Roshan Digital Accounts would be able to invest in the housing project. He hoped that the government would fetch roughly $2 billion from the project.

The minister further informed that the cabinet has directed the Ministry of Finance and interior to sit with the Board of Investment and deliberate upon a scheme where foreign citizens could be facilitated in buying properties in Pakistan.

Citing Turkey’s example, that recently allowed foreigners to buy properties in the country, he said if someone wanted to buy property at Kartarpur, they could. He termed the project a “game-changer”, adding that foreigners would be able to buy houses, hotels and invest in property businesses once the scheme was approved. He said the project would have complete legal protection.

He said that the cabinet had approved the Sambrial-Kharian Motorway, saying the prime minister has emphasised on initiating the Kharian-Rawalpindi Motorway. Among other decisions, he said, the cabinet has accorded approval for importing 50,000 metric tons fertilizer from China, adding that Rs50 billion has been given to Chinese IPPs and the ‘difference of opinion’ stands resolved. The cabinet also approved the Science & Technology and Innovation Policy, 2021.

During the question answer session, Fawad conjectured that PML-N lawmakers will leave the party one-by-one.