Monday, December 11, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Sharif, family exiled to Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD, Dec 10 (Reuters) — Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was taken from prison today and sent into exile in Saudi Arabia, 14 months after he was overthrown in an army coup.

A plane provided by the Saudi Royal Family lifted off with the 51-year-old leader and 19 relatives from a military air base on the outskirts of Islamabad a little over an hour before sunrise.

“Nawaz Sharif and family have been exiled to Saudi Arabia,” said a brief official announcement by the government that ended a day of rumours. “This decision has been taken in the best interest of the country and the people of Pakistan.”

The statement said under terms agreed with military leader General Pervez Musharraf Mr Sharif would not have to serve any further time on his sentences, which included a life term, but would have to forfeit Rs 500 million ($8.3 million) in property and stay out of politics for the next 21 years.

“On advice of the Chief Executive (Musharraf), the President of Pakistan according to law has pardoned Nawaz Sharif’s remaining jail sentence while the rest of the punishment...will remain in place,” said the announcement.

Friends had gathered at the family home in Islamabad, while workers loaded suitcases abroad a van to take them to a waiting Saudi plane. Mr Sharif, meanwhile, was brought from the Army’s Attock fortress on the banks of the Indus.

Those heading to exile in Saudi Arabia included Mr Sharif’s wife Kulsoom, his father, his son and a younger brother jailed on similar charges. It was the first time a Pakistani Government had exiled a former leader, one Prime Minister was hanged after a coup.

“We are not running away in the darkness of night,” Mrs Kulsoom Sharif said just before she left in a police motorcade to the airport. “We are being expelled from this country.”

Although Mr Sharif’s wife denied a deal had been made, she had emphasised in the hours before the exile was announced that she would jump at any offer to leave.

The government said Mr Sharif had asked for clemency from General Musharraf, who seized power when the Prime Minister tried to fire him as army commander. In the past month he has also complained of heart trouble.

“Recently, Pakistan’s closest friend Saudi Arabia offered the Government of Pakistan to accept the Sharif family for medical treatment on humanitarian grounds if exiled to their country,” said the statement.

A jet belonging to the Saudi royal family, which had carried an envoy to Islamabad for the final preparations for exile, had been parked amid heavy security at the military airport on the outskirts of the capital.

The unexpected deal with the government appeared to shock many in Mr Sharif’s party, which only a week before had joined other parties in an alliance with the sole goal of ending military rule and restoring democracy.

Many were angry at what they saw as Kulsoom’s readiness to strike a deal with the government without consulting them.

In a last-minute piece of political housekeeping, Mr Javed Hashemi was named acting head of the Muslim League. Kulsoom, although carrying no title, had taken on that role for herself while her husband was in prison. Mr Hashemi was quick to deny there was any party deal with the army.

But the pardon for Mr Sharif also raised awkward questions for the military rulers, who have launched an accountability drive to punish those guilty of corruption, regardless of their prominence.

The exiling of Mr Sharif will mean that the last two Prime Ministers of Pakistan are living abroad, unable to return to their homeland.

Mrs Benazir Bhutto, Mr Sharif’s predecessor, left Pakistan before the coup and was convicted of corruption in absentia. Her husband has been in a Pakistani jail without charge for several years.

But by late 1999 Mr Sharif — already beset by rising political and economic turmoil — had alienated the military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half its history. He was removed in a bloodless coup in October after he tried to fire General Musharraf while the army commander was out of the country.

Following the coup Mr Sharif was convicted on several charges, including corruption. He recieved a life sentence for “hijacking” because he tried to prevent General Musharraf’s plane from landing after ordering his dismissal.

AFP adds from Jeddah: Ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew into the Saudi city of Jeddah on Sunday after being sent into exile and released from jail under a presidential pardon, a Saudi source said.

The source, asking not to be named, told AFP that Mr Sharif arrived on a private Saudi plane along with several members of his family and was to stay in Jeddah for a mini-pilgrimage to nearby Mecca and Medina, home of Islam’s holiest sites.

The ousted premier was to travel on to Riyadh to undergo medical tests at the capital’s military hospital.

UNI adds: Mediapersons were kept away from the airport and confusion prevailed as deposed Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif, now exiled in Saudi Arabia, was brought here on Sunday from Attock Fort Jail under heavy security cover.

He was driven in a white Mercedes escorted by military jeeps and trucks. The departure was delayed by a few hours as his two brothers, including younger brother and former Chief Minister of Punjab province, Shahbaz Sharif, who was released in Karachi, could not reach here in time. Shahbaz was flown to Lahore from Karachi and later, accompanied by his brother Abbass, flew here on a helicopter provided by the authorities.

During this interval, Mr Nawaz Sharif passed several hours in the airport lounge. It was here that the Sharif family offered their morning prayers led by the deposed premier’s son-in-law Capt Safdar.

It was here that he met his father Mian Sharif for the first time since his arrest. The two embraced each other and tears streamed from their eyes. Present on the occasion were his mother, wife and other relatives.

According to officials, Mr Sharif was accompanied by nearly 30 of his relatives to Saudi Arabia. Earlier, it was announced that he will be accompanied by 17 relatives. Four servants also accompanied the group.

The Sharif family carried as many as 101 suitcases which contained personal belongings. The luggage was brought in trucks from Lahore.


Hasan Sharif gets surprise

NICOSIA, Dec 10 (AFP) — Hasan Sharif received a surprise phone call today at his London home. It was his father Nawaz Sharif, the overthrown Pakistan Prime Minister, telling his youngest son that he had just been freed from a military prison and was on his way to Saudi Arabia.

“It’s been a wonderful time. I had no idea,” said Hasan (24), who hopes to join his father in Jeddah in the coming week. “I just want to hug him,” he added.

But the son does not have forgiving words for Pakistan’s military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, who ousted his father from power and jailed him and his relatives for more than a year.

“I do not think Musharraf released my family as a goodwill gesture. If so, he would have done it earlier. The regime is illegitimate,” he told AFP in a telephone interview. “He tried to keep my family in the gallows as long as possible.”

So ended an ordeal that began on October 12, 1999, when the Pakistan military, led by General Musharraf orchestrated a coup that saw Sharif’s father thrown into prison on charges of hijacking and tax evasion.

The shock jolted Hasan, the only Sharif not living in Pakistan, from his life as a young London university student and turned him into his father’s crusader overnight.

For the past two months, Hasan had hoped that his father might be released. “But it kept getting delayed and delayed and now by the grace of God, it has worked very well,” said Hasan.

He credited members of the Saudi royal family with being the crucial force in his father’s case. 


UK to freeze Benazir’s assets

LONDON, Dec 10 (PTI) — Britain is to freeze the assets of Mrs Benazir Bhutto here and order the police to help authorities in her country recover money allegedly stolen by the former Pakistani Premier and her husband, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported today.

A team of senior Home Office officials met representatives of the Pakistani military regime in Islamabad last month and agreed to offer full assistance, it said. According to the report, there is also a warrant out in Pakistan for Benazir’s arrest.

Her husband Asif Zardari is already in a Pakistani jail. Home Office Minister Charles Clarke said British officials met the Pakistani military regime’s representative Gen Amjad here in September to “explore the scope of assistance available” to recover funds that Islamabad alleges have been misappropriated.

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