| A Sharif supporter at a rally in Peshawar. (AP)
Islamabad, Sept. 11: President Pervez Musharraf today denied any role in yesterday’s deportation of Nawaz Sharif as his government faced a wave of condemnation and prepared for a tricky court battle.
“Ask the government. The presidency has nothing to do with it,” the military ruler’s spokesman, Major General Rashid Qureshi, told reporters.
Former Prime Minister Sharif had returned from seven years of exile only to be dragged out of the airport and bundled into a Saudi Arabia-bound plane in apparent defiance of a supreme court green light to his return.
Musharraf had yesterday said that everything was done according to law, a TV channel reported, but he stayed out of the public eye today.
The foreign ministry, too, distanced itself from the controversy as newspapers attacked the government, lawyers struck work and Sharif’s family filed two contempt petitions in the apex court.
“Well, the foreign office was not involved,” the normally strident spokesperson, Tasnim Aslam, told reporters.
A London-based leader of Sharif’s party, however, told Dawn that Sharif had known for at least two days that he would be deported as soon as he arrived in Pakistan.
The unnamed Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader claimed that Sharif’s wife, Begum Kulsoom, might now fly to Pakistan on September 20 under a “Plan B”. The seats have already been booked on various flights.
If Kulsoom, too, is deported, her son Hussain Nawaz would try to reach Pakistan after a couple of weeks. “The purpose is to continue to stir local politics and mobilise masses against the army government,” the leader said.
He added that talks with the Saudi intelligence chief and slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s son Saad Hariri had made it clear to Sharif that his deportation was imminent.
This was why he had, at the eleventh hour, asked brother Shahbaz to stay back in London.
Local PML-N leaders, though, gave a contrary version as they tried to weave the image of a heroic Sharif being tricked by a frightened government. Sharif had volunteered to be arrested at Islamabad airport, Sadiq-ul Farooq said. “He said: ‘If you have any cases against me, arrest me and send me to jail’. He offered his wrists to them.”
The government said Sharif wasn’t deported but chose to leave — a line it may adopt when the contempt petitions come up, probably as early as tomorrow.
Deputy information minister Tariq Azim told the BBC the government had obeyed the court verdict and let Sharif enter the country. But faced with a choice between jail and a return to exile, he had chosen the softer option.
Sharif, who reached Jeddah last evening, has reportedly been barred from all political activity for the next three years — the remaining part of an alleged 10-year exile pact he struck in the year 2000 with the Pakistan and Saudi governments.