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Madina sojourn: Nawaz likely to play Saudi card

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LAHORE: As the political rhetoric rises to a crescendo at home, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif prepares to fly to Saudi Arabia for a brief religious sojourn. However, sources say that his trip has important connotations given Riyadh’s key role in Pakistan’s internal matters.

The Sharif family is likely to leave for Saudi Arabia on July 20, sources told The Express Tribune. Nawaz will not accompany his family, but he’ll follow them on a week-long trip, they added. The family will stay at the residence of Hussain Nawaz in Jeddah, while Nawaz himself prefers to spend the last 10 days of the fasting month of Ramazan at Masjid-e-Nabvi (SAW) in Madina.

Since 2008, it has been an annual ritual for Nawaz to spend the last 10 days of Ramazan in Madina – but this year he has decided to cut short the planned religious retreat to a week due to the ongoing political hullabaloo in the country.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf  chairman Imran Khan is scheduled to stage a ‘tsunami march’ in Islamabad on August 14 against alleged fraud in last year’s parliamentary election. Awami Muslim League of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has also joined the chorus. Similarly, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Dr Tahirul Qadri have also joined hands against the government.

HunzaNews, July 17th, 2014.

During his stay, sources said, Nawaz Sharif will hold background meetings with senior Saudi officials who have good relations with Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency to discuss certain matters. According to sources, the PML-N is convinced that its rivals have been emboldened by ‘strained relations’ between the government and the top spy agency.

Highly-placed sources in the PML-N say that although the party leadership is comfortable with the army chief, the top spymaster still has some serious issues with the PML-N government, especially over the government’s handling of a vilification campaign against the top spy agency. The unrelenting anti-government tirades of Imran and ominous predictions of Sheikh Rashid have convinced the PML-N leadership that the spy agency is not ready to compromise on the issue, these sources added.

With all this in view, Nawaz is expected to urge the Saudi officials in background meetings to use their influence to ease tensions between the government and the spy agency. Sources said Nawaz is confident that his Saudi trip would yield positive results – and this is why he has directed his senior aides to continue the work assigned to them with regard to different national projects. He is said to have assured his senior aides that nothing will happen on August 14 – the day when the PTI will stage long march – and that everything would be resolved amicably.

In October 1999 when the then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf toppled the Nawaz government, the Saudi rulers had successfully negotiated a deal with the security establishment as a result of which the Sharif family was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile the PML-N has established indirect contacts with the PTI leadership over the long march issue, senior PTI politician Mian Mehmoodur Rashid confirmed to The Express Tribune. “Both parties are in talks through intermediaries over the issue,” he added.

Federal Information Minister Senator Pervez Rashid refused to comment on Nawaz’s private visit to Saudi Arabia. “Nawaz Sharif used to spend last 10 days of Ramazan at Madina, but this time I’m not aware of his schedule,” Rashid told The Express Tribune. “In the past he never met with the Saudi king or other officials during such religious retreats.”

He denied there was any tension between the government and the top spy agency over any issue. About PTI’s long march, the minister said he didn’t know who was pulling the strings. “However, it should be clear to those who have scripted his march that Imran neither has a past nor a future,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune

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