ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is “critically unwell”, his doctor said yesterday, days after the three-time leader now serving a prison sentence for corruption suffered a minor heart attack. Sharif is currently in hospital in the eastern city of Lahore after receiving “indefinite” bail on medical grounds in one of his graft convictions, with an Islamabad court due to decide on another Tuesday.
His name remains on a stop list, meaning that he must remain in the country for the time being. “Former PM #NawazSharif, critically unwell, is fighting the battle for his health & life,” his personal physician, Adnan Khan, tweeted yesterday. In addition to the minor heart attack, Sharif has a low platelet count, both of which are being further complicated by “deteriorating kidney functions” Khan added.
He said poor blood sugar and blood pressure control was taking its toll, adding that “establishing a definitive diagnosis and subsequent management poses considerable risk to #NawazSharif’s fragile and unstable health”. The 69-year-old former premier, known as the “Lion of Punjab”, was first taken to hospital last week when his blood platelet count dropped to dangerous levels.
Sharif, Pakistan’s longest serving prime minister, is a political survivor who has repeatedly roared back to the country’s top office, underscoring the unpredictable nature of Pakistani politics. A hugely wealthy steel tycoon from Punjab, Pakistan’s wealthiest province, he was considered strong on the economy and infrastructure, but inherited sagging finances and a stifling energy crisis when he was elected for the third time in 2013.
Seen as a pragmatist in the West, he raised eyebrows by calling for peace talks with the Pakistani Taleban, blamed for killing thousands of Pakistanis since 2002. He earned a reputation for combativeness during his two previous terms as prime minister, from 1990 to 1993 – when he was sacked, also on corruption charges-and from 1997 to 1999, when he was deposed by the powerful military.
He blames the security establishment for again targeting him in 2017, when the Supreme Court disqualified him from politics for life over graft allegations, which he denies. He later received a seven-year jail sentence. His brother Shehbaz Sharif, formerly the chief minister of Punjab, took over the leadership of the family’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party-but failed to make a dent against World Cup-winning cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan in last year’s general election. Khan has since launched a high-profile and controversial anti-corruption drive targeting several PML-N leaders.
Ramping up security
In another development, Pakistani officials have ordered additional security forces be deployed to the capital Islamabad, authorities confirmed yesterday, days ahead of the expected arrival of thousands of Islamist protesters calling for the dissolution of the government. Islamabad police spokesperson Zia Bajwa said extra police forces from across the country were being deployed “at the main entry points” of the capital, adding that security was also being increased around main government buildings and the diplomatic enclave.
A senior law enforcement official also confirmed the deployment of reinforcements. The march represents the first major challenge to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government as his administration battles rising public anger over a faltering economy and double-digit inflation. The “Azadi (Freedom) March” is being led by Khan’s long-time rival Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who heads the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), one of the country’s largest Islamist parties.
Rehman has repeatedly claimed that Khan took power following “rigged” polls in 2018, and is calling for fresh elections-but has remained vague about what tactics he and his supporters will use once they arrive in the capital. “The whole nation has developed a consensus that this is a fake government which doesn’t enjoy the public’s mandate,” Rehman told thousands of demonstrators in the central city of Multan yesterday.
The cleric is leading tens of thousands of marchers who are descending on the capital from cities across Pakistan and plan to converge in Islamabad on October 31. Authorities have already begun sealing off the capital’s diplomatic enclave with shipping containers, while efforts to strike a deal with the protesters before they arrive in Islamabad appear to have failed. Khan has labeled the march as an attempt to “blackmail” his government and dismissed reconciling with Rehman, insisting the cleric has benefited from large-scale graft for years. – Agencies