The truth about Nawaz Sharif’s exile deal

Following are the details of an article published in the daily THE NEWS written by Aamir Mir regarding Mian Nawaz Sharif’s exile deal in 2000.
PML-N President Nawaz Sharif’s repeated assertion while the general elections are near at hand that he had actually been sent into forced exile to Saudi Arabia by the Musharraf regime runs contrary to an October 2007 verdict passed by a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

The October 17, 2007 SC verdict said: “The former prime minister’s release from prison and his journey to Saudi Arabia after getting a presidential pardon due to an undertaking could not be described as forced exile.”

The judgement was passed on a petition filed by Nawaz Sharif, challenging his ‘forced expulsion’ to Saudi Arabia on September 10, 2007, when he had returned home on the eve of the 2008 general elections, but was deported back to Saudi Arabia by the Musharraf regime. While announcing its short order in the case on August 23, 2007, the SC bench upheld Sharif’s petition on the grounds of Article 15 of the Constitution, which gives every Pakistani citizen the right to enter or move freely throughout Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif, who denies having travelled to Saudia in December 2000 after signing a pardon deal with Musharraf, has stated in a recent television interview that the former dictator was reaping the bitter harvest of his deeds for having sent him into forced exile.

However, Sharif seems to have overlooked the apex court’s detailed verdict of October 17, 2007 wherein the SC had elaborated certain parts of its August 23, 2007 short order and observed that the former prime minister’s release from the prison and his journey to Saudi Arabia could not be described as ‘forced exile’. It, however, held that the Sharif brothers could return to their homeland as no restraint can be placed on a Pakistani citizen to return to his country and the undertaking given by them had no constitutional legitimacy.

But in the same verdict, the apex court gave detailed observations on the circumstances in which Nawaz Sharif and his other family members gave an undertaking, resulting in remission/pardon in their jail term and subsequent journey to Saudi Arabia. The court order said: “In view of the checkered history of the case, the undertaking furnished by the petitioners cannot be ignored altogether on the basis whereof they had proceeded abroad. Had this undertaking not been in field, the position would have been different and sentence awarded in various cases would remain intact. In such view of the matter, the journey to Saudi Arabia could not be termed as ‘forced exile’. The move was never challenged for a couple of years as the petitioners were aware of the undertaking which culminated in their release from jail”, the SC verdict said.

The apex court verdict added: “Whatever terminology, i.e., deal, negotiation, mediation, third-party intervention, undertaking or agreement may be used, there is no denying the fact that the petitioners had proceeded abroad at their own.” In fact, the Supreme Court had announced its verdict a day after the Musharraf regime had submitted [on August 22, 2007] the documents of the alleged deal made between the Sharif brothers and the Musharraf government, in line with the court orders passed on August 16, 2007. As per the exile deal produced before the court by the then Attorney General Malik Qayyum, the Sharif brothers had voluntarily agreed to live out of the country for ten years.

A copy of an undertaking seeking permission to proceed abroad by Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif was also filed in the apex court the same day which revealed that the Sharif brothers had left the country for 10 years on their own choice and agreed not to be engaged in any business or political activities or any other activities of any nature whatsoever against the interests of Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif was quoted as saying in the exile agreement produced before the apex court: “I, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, accept the help by a personality for negotiation for the release from imprisonment in Pakistan. I am satisfied with this whole process of the negotiation. In the country where I would adopt residence, there I would not take part in any business or political activity and nor would take part for ten in any politics, regarding imprisonment or against the interests of Pakistan. I will not proceed to another country without any permission of the country where I will reside for ten years outside Pakistan, and that I will come back in the same country. I will not tell anything to anybody about the personality and the country, through which the agreement has been made.”

Two separate but identical one-page “Confidentiality and Hold Harmless Agreements” carried the signatures of the Sharif brothers. Sharifs pledged in these papers that they would not disclose the identity of “either the gentleman or the country involved in my release from Pakistan and relocation to in the approved location except with their prior written consent.” In his book, “In the Line of Fire”, Musharraf had stated that the deal was arranged by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.

According to the pardon documents produced before the apex court by the Musharraf regime on August 22, 2007, it was on the basis of a four-page application signed by Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Abbas Sharif and Hussain Nawaz, that the then Chief Executive/Chairman Joint Chief of Staff/Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf advised President Rafiq Tarar on December 9, 2000 to remit the sentences awarded to Nawaz Sharif under Article 45 of the Constitution, which he remitted.

On December 9, 2000, the Chief Executive Secretariat had recommended to the then President to grant presidential pardon in terms of Article 45 of the Constitution to Mian Nawaz Sharif and remit the sentence of imprisonment for life awarded by the High Court of Sindh [on October 30, 2000] and the sentence of rigorous imprisonment for 14 years awarded by the Accountability Court Attock Fort [on July 22, 2000]. On this, the then President Rafiq Tarrar wrote, “Approved. Sentences remitted.”

However, Mian Nawaz Sharif, while talking to the Geo News from Germany on August 22, 2007, (a day before the apex court announced its August 23, 2007 verdict) rejected all the deal documents [produced in the apex court by the Musharraf regime] as fake. “Musharraf is blackmailing and threatening us by presenting fake and fraud documents in the Supreme Court to keep us from returning home”, claimed Nawaz Sharif while adding that he had not signed any agreement with Musharraf, his government or any department. “The entire government drama is meant to blackmail us and the nation. I don’t recognize the documents that the Musharraf government has produced before the Supreme Court. But I do acknowledge there was an understanding with the Saudi government at that time. However, I can’t reveal that because it is a very sensitive issue”, Nawaz Sharif had added.

Approached for comments, a PML-N spokesman said every sane Pakistani knows quite well that Nawaz Sharif was sent into forced exile to Saudia by General Musharraf and that’s why the Supreme Court had ordered the Musharraf regime in its October 17, 2007 detailed verdict to allow Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan in accordance with Article 15 of the Constitution.