The Lahore High Court has granted three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the permission to travel abroad on medical grounds for the next four weeks without submitting the 7 billion surety bond that was demanded by the federal government. While this will be seen as a blow by ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its supporters, it will also be interpreted as though the government’s stance was grounded on stubbornness and not on a legal basis, as the court’s dismissal reflects that. Under normal circumstances, the court’s satisfaction on a legal matter should be enough for the sitting government, but the ruling party is viewed as having an animosity against the opposition party and its leaders. However, the legal question is not definitely answered by the court. The government’s authority to demand a surety bond has not been denied, even though it has not been accepted. Legal experts have been of differing views, and the general public has also not condemned the decision to extract a surety from a person who has been convicted by the court.

PTI can now claim that it is the court that will ensure the return of those convicted and institute penalties if its orders are not being followed and this is exactly what the LHC also mentioned in its judgement. If the court is satisfied, the government must not intervene.

It is also important to remember that the government is no unbiased party in this matter; the PML-N and its leader Nawaz Sharif are rivals of PTI and the fact that the government is looking to block medical treatment for its fiercest opponents is not a good look for the ruling party. The optics of a three-time Prime Minister gravely ill and refused treatment abroad, even though multiple independent and state medical panels have recommended otherwise, are not positive for PTI. If the court was satisfied that the former Prime Minister is gravely ill, refusing to let him leave the country for treatment will result in nothing.

By asking for indemnity bonds worth the same amount as Nawaz Sharif’s alleged corruption, the ruling party was essentially putting its opponents in an impossible position; the only way for Nawaz Sharif to leave was to tacitly admit his guilt, which he has refused to do since his incarceration. By luck the PMLN has found relief from the courts. PTI has been damaged, since its principled stance, no matter how popular, has not stood the test of judicial scrutiny. It should have prepared its case with less flamboyant speech making, and more focus on the law.