Even as the world waits, with bated breath, about the outcome of an (ongoing) stand-off between two nuclear powers in South Asia, the domestic politics of Pakistan seems unconcerned with such (trivial) matters. There is protesting to do on the floor of the Parliament for Saad Rafique’s production orders, there is ruckus to be caused in the Sindh Assembly for Agha Siraj Durrani, and then there is the all-important matter of pleading with Mian Nawaz Sharif to get his requisite medical treatment done.

Amidst all this, who has time to think about legislative issues or matters of regional security?

So let us focus on what is consuming the most energy and time of our (esteemed) members of the legislative assemblies, and that of the (self-proclaimed) largest political party in Pakistan: the issue of allowing Nawaz Sharif to go abroad, or getting him to agree that he should accept the (best) medical treatment available in Pakistan.

Any discussion in this regard must start with acknowledgement of the fact that Mian Nawaz Sharif is actually unwell. He has been for a while. He has had at least two heart-related surgeries (in 2011 and 2016), and also suffers from other ailments that (reportedly) include diabetes, liver complications and high blood-pressure. These issues, when seen collectively, may be ominous for any individual. They are especially troubling for an individual who has always enjoyed the best of comforts in life, and has been treated with special care (befitting a head of State) inside Pakistan and abroad.

Nawaz Sharif’s health would not be a ‘national issue’ if Nawaz Sharif could go abroad, live in the comforts of the Avenfield Apartments, and get his treatment done from doctors in London – as he has done for several decades now. Problem: he has been convicted by the NAB courts (in two cases), and is undergoing his sentence of imprisonment.

During incarceration, a complete medical check-up of Nawaz Sharif was conducted, in accordance with law. When he complained of health-related issues, he was checked by the jail doctor, and then taken to the hospital, where relevant doctors conducted the necessary tests. In fact, at different points in time, various medical boards (including experts from the cardiovascular field) examined Nawaz Sharif, and upon their recommendations he was taken to Services Hospital, the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, and Jinnah Hospital. At all times, his personal physician, Dr Adnan Khan, was given access to the patient. And, as has been narrated in the press, when Nawaz Sharif was taken to Jinnah Hospital, a special VVIP ward was prepared for him, which (unfortunately) was not to his liking. He rejected four rooms before settling on a room in the Gynaecology Ward, which was declared a sub-jail for as long as he stayed at the facility.

However, none of this could appease the former premier and his family. Nawaz Sharif wanted to go abroad. Period. No hospital in Pakistan, no doctor in Pakistan, was good enough. The Government, however, had no legal authority to release an incarcerated person, allowing him to proceed abroad. The courts had convicted him. And only the courts to release him.

Consequently, Nawaz Sharif decided to approach the honourable Islamabad High Court, seeking bail on medical grounds. Having already been granted bail (on merits) in the Avenfield case, Nawaz Sharif and his supporters were confident that their application for grant of bail (on medical grounds), in the Al-Azizia case, would succeed.

Unfortunately, after hearing all parties concerned, on February 25th, 2019, the honourable Islamabad High Court refused to grant bail to Nawaz Sharif on medical grounds, concluding that“none of the reports suggest that continued incarceration of [MNS], in any way, would be detrimental to his life”.

This came as a shock to Nawaz Sharif and his family. Since then, an angry Nawaz Sharif has refused to heed to all reason. While the jail authorities (read: government) claimed to have housed him in (the best available) medical facilities, Nawaz Sharif insisted that he be taken back to the jail, and has since (reportedly) refused all medical care. His daughter, his brother, other family members, close party confidants, and several members from the media have met with Mr Sharif, in hopes of convincing him to accept medical care. However, true to a spirit of (unnecessary) defiance, Mr Sharif remains adamant in not accepting reason or medical treatment. Why? He does not wish to be ‘humiliated’ by the process of being taken from one hospital/doctor to the other. You know… the same process that the rest of Pakistanis would be lucky to be afforded.

Also, the Prime Minister and Chief Minister Punjab have directed that all facilitation be made to afford Nawaz Sharif the best available medical care – including consultation with doctors abroad (if they can come to Pakistan). Furthermore, on the demand of Maryam Safdar (through Twitter), the Punjab government also claims to be exploring the possibility of setting up a “resuscitation and life-saving unit” on jail premises, to the extent permitted by law. But none of this has assuaged Nawaz Sharif.

In the meantime, PML-N’s spin-machine has taken to protesting. The first battle-ground, in this regard, is social media, which has been swamped with hashtags demanding the government to release Nawaz Sharif, and to allow him to proceed abroad. Furthermore, seasoned politicians of PML-N are trying to argue that the refusal of the government to allow Nawaz Sharif to proceed abroad is somehow part of ‘political victimisation’.

When asked the next question, as to ‘what authority does the government have to release a prisoner that has been incarcerated by the courts’, the PML-N machine is stumped for an answer. Because the government has no such legal or administrative authority. The government cannot sit in appeal over orders of the court. It is the court that has sent Nawaz Sharif to jail, not the government. And only the courts can release him; the government cannot.

Under the relevant laws, subject to certain conditions, the government only has the power to “remove a convicted prisoner or an under trial prisoner to hospital outside the prison for operative or other special treatment which cannot conveniently be govern in the prison itself” (Rule 197 – Prison Rules, 1978). It has no power to allow a convicted person (undergoing sentence) to proceed abroad, without orders of the court.

PML-N may be able to construct a case against the government if Nawaz Sharif had been granted bail, but was being stopped from going abroad (by the government) through placement of his name on the ECL. That is not the case here.

While most days, on most issues, the spin-doctors in our politico-media culture can get away with (needlessly) blaming the State, or its institutions – this is not one of those days, nor is this one of those issues. Nawaz Sharif needs to fight a legal case for his release. Instead, he is trying to turn it into a political battle. This is a futile exercise, to say the least. Perhaps he is hoping that this narrative will create enough pressure on the courts to release him (when/if his bail application is argued before the honourable Supreme Court). However, our recent history bears testament to the fact that courts do not render judgments based on street pressure. Otherwise, Nawaz Sharif’s “GT Road Rally” would have successfully overturned his disqualification.

Someone, on the inside, needs to talk sense to Nawaz Sharif. And that too, very soon. Because, in this fast-paced world, where the threat of war looms over our country, soon people will have no patience for such antics of a former politician.