After stating for months that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be taken back from London to Pakistan, the government agreed to cancel his passport. The abrupt announcement was made by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid during a press conference in the capital days after he said he would verify when Mr. Sharif’s passport would expire.
However, sources in his ministry stated that Mr. Sharif’s passport is due to expire on Feb 16, so it appears that if such an application is made, the interior ministry will not renew his passport.
Although many say that the cancellation of Mr Sharif’s passport would make him ‘stateless,’ the truth remains that he is a Pakistani citizen and his international travel is literally limited by the deprivation of his passport.
Although Mr Rashid made the announcement as if it were good news for the country, it is unclear how the PTI would profit from this, as even the optics of cancelling his passport are at best misleading. A lot of uproar has been made on the topic of Mr. Sharif’s extradition from the UK, where he has been staying since November 2019 on the basis of medical attention after obtaining bail and government permission to fly abroad.
The Islamabad High Court and the Accountability Court have both ruled him an absconder, and the government has promised to get him alive. Several ministers and advisers have sent deadlines for January 2021 in this respect and made high promises regarding the ‘imminent progress’ of their demands for his extradition to the British Government. The government’s attempts to convince the UK to remove Mr Sharif seem to have been futile, as no positive response has been obtained from the UK Home Office.
The government has hurried to revoke Mr Sharif’s passport instead of considering its next moves in the matter, such as launching a dialogue with the British authorities over an extradition deal, which means he will not fly to Pakistan even if he wishes. Not only is this an agenda of its own, it is also a peculiar message for the government to convey on its plans to the public.
The authorities seem to have decided, under pressure from their own deadlines, that if they do not somehow convince Mr. Sharif to return now, they do not want him at all. The cancellation of passports is pure politics and will not impress anyone. It offers Mr Sharif a fresh pretext, if anything, to evade the courts and stay in the UK.