The news of Nawaz Sharif’s ailing health and the delayed access to medical care and denial of visitation rights is a danger to political stability in the country, and it is important that the government identifies it as such. This is not to blame the ruling party for the treatment of the former Prime Minister; courts and prison administration staff need to be cognisant of the fact that an inmate’s life is in immediate danger and this should be ample reason for the provision of proper healthcare and allowing for family visits. However, maybe politicians from opposing political parties should show a little more tact and respect when it comes to talking about the health of their opponents; a politician is not necessarily play-acting every time the news of them falling ill comes out.

On principle, ensuring that all those incarcerated are treated equally is not altogether wrong. It is true that all criminals are equal in the eyes of the law. However, in practice, when you have a former Prime Minister with major health conditions, some leeway – at the very least, to ensure that he survives his sentence – must be provided.

While prisoners lose many of their rights such as the freedom of movement among others, access to healthcare and visitation from family and friends remain inalienable rights that must be provided. Denying a prisoner access to critical healthcare is not the way to treat them like a “common criminal”, but rather allowing for all inmates to receive healthcare and aid when needed is the only way the government is adhering to its responsibility to criminals. Instead of denying the former PM medical care, perhaps prison administration should look to perform its duties more diligently with respect to all inmates and provide them with access to healthcare when urgently needed.

The state must remember that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is still the country’s second largest political party, and even the incarceration of many of its top leaders was not enough to deter the party’s loyal voter base from supporting their preferred leaders. If any of the opposition leaders – especially the supreme leader – were to expire in federal custody, the resulting outrage would be catastrophic for both the government and the country in general. We do not need to look too far behind in history to assess what the death of a beloved leader might do to supporters; the assassination of Benzair Bhutto in 2007 is still fresh in the collective national memory. We must avoid such tragic situations when it is easily possible to do so.