Ansar Abbasi writes in today’s The News about how Nawaz Sharif was allegedly duped into believing he was heading for Karachi, and not Jeddah on September 10:
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was forcibly exiled to Saudi Arabia in a uniquely deceptive fashion as the plane he boarded was actually headed for a domestic destination but was later given a new call sign in mid-air for an international destination – Jeddah. Defence ministry sources confirmed that the flight at the take-off time from Islamabad airport had the call sign (flight number) PK-363, whose destination was Karachi via Quetta. But during the course of the flight, its call sign was changed and it touched down only at Jeddah.
A source said that this was a rare case of the civil aviation history, where during the course of flight, a plane was converted from a domestic flight into an international one. However, Civil Aviation Authority officials are of the view that such a change of the call sign is not really unusual for them.
The PK-363 was originally scheduled to depart from Islamabad at 10:30 am Monday for Quetta from where it was to fly to Karachi. However, after the deceptive flight, carrying Nawaz Sharif, another PK-363 flew for Quetta from Islamabad airport at around 1:45 pm.
Nawaz Sharif, who was exiled in a blatant violation of the constitutional provisions and in complete negation of the Supreme Court order, was never told that he was being deported to Jeddah, either at the Islamabad airport or during the first hour of his journey.
Talking to his wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, by telephone from Jeddah after he landed in Saudi Arabia, the PML-N chief said that he was treacherously deported. He confirmed to his wife that he boarded the plane under the impression given to him that he was being moved to some other city –possibly Karachi.
However, what the top government leaders say does not match these facts now known to many officials in the country’s civil aviation apparatus. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is quoted by the media to have said that the government did not force Nawaz Sharif to return to Saudi Arabia, adding it was his own choice.
“We did not force him to return. I have been told that he was given two options – either to go to prison or proceed to Saudi Arabia,” the prime minister said in a live interview with a private television channel on Monday evening.
Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani in a statement also towed the prime minister’s line and said: “PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif before being taken into custody was given the option to leave for Saudi Arabia in line with his agreement with the Saudi government.” Durrani added: “Nawaz Sharif himself opted to go to Saudi Arabia on his free will, as he did not want to land in jail.”
Interestingly, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was also quoted to have said the same. He said that Sharif was given a choice between going to Saudi Arabia and remaining in the country to face court cases but he preferred the first option.
None of the independent media persons, who had accompanied the exiled leader of Pakistan from Heathrow Airport, London, to Islamabad confirmed what the prime minister, his information minister and the ruling PML chief said. The media persons almost unanimously said that this second exile of Nawaz Sharif was forced and not his choice.
“Perhaps he was anticipating that security personnel would board the aircraft and whisk him away to put him once again behind the bars either in Attock, Murree or some other place,” one of these journalists writes, adding: “What he did not perhaps anticipate was the government’s action to send him one again into exile – this time against his wishes.”
Nawaz Sharif was mentally prepared for the consequences like facing jail upon his arrival at Islamabad, even before his departure from London, and this possibility was discussed by him with his family members and party men. What he perhaps never thought was that the government in the presence of a clear direction of the Supreme Court would send him into forced exile.