Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) seem to have tasted what being merciful feels like. After raking in the praise for its humane treatment of the captured Indian pilot at the height of tension, the ruling party has decided to extent that policy to the other high-profile individual in its custody, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, by allowing him to receive medical treatment from wherever he likes. This step is highly appreciated – but it must be remembered that it was no always so.       

If it weren’t for the continued efforts of his daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the deteriorating health of the former Prime Minister would not be a national talking point today. His health issues have been disputed by the government, especially those party members who act as political spokespersons, and repeated medical teams have been sent to “re-confirm” reports of medical complications. While those advocating a strict adherence to the rule of law in denying preferential treatment to any inmate certainly have a point, there comes a threshold where tenets of humanity take on greater weight than the black and white confines of rules and regulations. Furthermore, it also cannot be denied that much of the resistance to Nawaz Sharif receiving treatment from doctors and facilities of his own choosing was rooted in a misplaced sense of punitive justice. “If he is suffering, he deserved it”, claimed people online, and many ruling party members echoed those thoughts.

As the government has rightly indicated this step “will not pervert the course of justice or obstruct the work of the National Accountability Bureau to benefit any influential person.” The legal penalties faced by Nawaz Sharif are quite separate from how he is provided medical care, and they shouldn’t prevent the latter.

Nawaz Sharif is a three time Prime Minister and a patriarch of the leading opposition party; his incarceration and treatment had compounded the political divide in the Parliament. PTI would be wise to use this opportunity to seek reconciliation.