The controversy over former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returning to Pakistan to face the case against him was revived after pictures of him taking a stroll in London surfaced, prompting a backlash, particularly amongst government members, who demanded he be declared an absconder. Thankfully, now the issue has been taken over from the media and the government to the institution which really has the right to deliberate over it; the courts.

An Islamabad High Court division bench heard the appeals of Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam and her husband, Safdar, against their convictions in the Avenfield reference. The prosecutors contended that Nawaz was a fugitive as he was not appearing for court proceedings “on purpose”, and that he be declared an absconder. Nawaz’s counsel has argued that the case cannot be heard in-absentia but maintains that it is not possible for Nawaz to return to the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as his health problems, for which he is seeking treatment in London.

Inevitably, Nawaz Sharif must return to Pakistan to face his cases in court in the interest of justice. This case cannot be left on hold indefinitely. Yet it must also be remembered that this case is a politically sensitive one—any development in the case leads to intense media scrutiny, as well as unnecessary commentary from the government. In that context, the Court made a balanced decision; it did not let Nawaz off the hook and gave him a deadline—September 10—to surrender of his own violation. Yet at the same time, the Court did not declare him an absconder either, as the government wanted it to.

That he was not declared an absconder, a criminal title, but was still ordered to come back, should be palatable for both sides. This shows that these issues, which are legal in nature but turned political unnecessarily, are best resolved in the courts. The government should leave this matter to the courts and let the judiciary handle it—there are far bigger hurdles facing the country at the moment, which need the government’s attention more urgently.