Nirupama Subramanian

Saudi Arabia not mentioned in the document

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government on Wednesday submitted in the Supreme Court a copy of a purported undertaking by the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, agreeing to go into exile to an unnamed country for 10 years in December 2000 and pledging to keep off political activity during that period.

Saudi Arabia, at whose behest President Pervez Musharraf admittedly agreed to release Mr. Sharif from prison, and where he went into exile, remains unmentioned in the mysteriously worded document.

The Government submitted an identical document signed by Mr. Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz. Titled “Confidentiality and Hold Harmless Agreement”. The documents do not specify to whom the undertakings were given.

Undertaking

Attorney-General Malik Qayyum said at a press conference as Mr. Sharif was released on the basis of this undertaking, it was obvious that it was “between Mr. Sharif and the government of Pakistan”.

Mr. Qayyum declined to explain why the Government did not possess the original of this undertaking dated December 2, 2000, saying he could not answer all questions as it involved the sensitivities of a “brother country with whom relations are of extreme importance”.

Submitting the documents in the Supreme Court a day before the third hearing of the identical petitions by the Sharif brothers pleading for directions to the Government not to obstruct their return, the Government asked for a three-week adjournment to retrieve the originals from the “brother country”.

At the last hearing on August 16, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary adjourned the case until August 23, but said no further adjournments would be given and the Government should submit all documents by this date.

“We have made hectic efforts to retrieve the document, but it needs a diplomatic retrieve,” said lawyer for the Government Ahmed Raza Qasuri, adding that more time was required in the larger interests of justice.

Along with the document and the adjournment plea, Mr. Qasuri also filed a reply to the Sharif petitions asking the Court to dismiss them as they were based “on apprehensions and speculations” about the action that it might take against them.

A report in The News said Saudi Arabia wanted to distance itself from the political battle in Pakistan. On a recent trip to the kingdom, gen. Musharraf asked the Saudi government to persuade Mr. Sharif not to return to Pakistan, according to the report. But while the Saudis conveyed to Mr. Sharif that such a request was made, they neither encouraged nor forbade the politician-in-exile from returning.

Tying itself in knots

The Pakistan government is tying itself in knots not to drag Saudi Arabia’s name into official documents, but the Attorney-General said “we will disclose everything in court, if need be”.

Couched in secretive language, the undertaking makes reference to an unidentified “gentleman’s assistance” that Mr. Sharif agreed to accept for negotiations on his behalf. According to the document, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader also declared his “full agreement” with “each step in the negotiations” and its result.

Counsel for the Sharif brothers, Fakhruddin G Ebrahim said he had not been shown or given a copy of the undertaking. He said “the agreement is of no consequence” to the case and that he was ready to argue against it in court. A seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Chaudhary will hear the case on Thursday.