PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif was barred from flying from the Lahore airport to the UK via Qatar in the early hours of Saturday by the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA), a day after the Lahore High Court granted him permission to travel abroad once for medical treatment.
The opposition leader in the National Assembly reached the airport along with other party leaders but he was “offloaded” before the Doha-bound flight's departure despite being issued a boarding pass.
FIA officials stopped Shehbaz at the immigration counter, telling him that his name was on the provincial identification list (PNIL) and he could not leave the country until the system was updated.
The PML-N president told them that he did not want to argue with them as the LHC had given him permission to leave the country once for medical treatment.
Attaullah Tarar, the PML-N deputy secretary general, showed the officials the court's verdict and also read it out to them.
The party's information secretary, Marriyum Aurangzeb, sought a reason in writing for not allowing her party chief to fly out of the country, prompting the FIA officials to issue an offloading form.
After the departure of the flight, Shehbaz returned to his residence in Model Town.
Speaking to the media, Marriyum said there were two FIA officials present in the court when it had granted permission to Shehbaz the fly abroad.
“The court order also states the flight number in which the party president was scheduled to travel,” she added.
She elaborated that when Shehbaz reached the airport, FIA officials stopped him and said he could not travel because his name was on another list, a “person-not-in-list".
“The FIA told us that the system had not been updated after the court order,” she added.
Maintaining that the move was driven by "mala fide" intention, Marriyum said the government was focused on “Shehbaz Sharif” and political opponents instead of providing electricity, water, sugar and wheat to citizens.
She added that Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Adviser to the PM on Accountability Shahzad Akbar were issuing statements that they "did not accept" the court order and would make every effort to stop Shehbaz from leaving the country.
“This is contempt of court and we are mulling our legal options to deal with the matter.”
Marriyum questioned as to what did the government wanted to achieve by resorting to such "petty" measures.
“If not today, he [Shehbaz] will leave after two days. What does the government want to prove by resorting to these tactics?”
The party spokesperson further maintained that the ruling party had faced a humiliating defeat in Daska and Karachi and that was why it had resorted to taking these "insignificant" steps.
She claimed that Shehbaz had been stopped at the airport on the directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his aide on accountability.
“His [Shahzad Akbar’s] scribbling on documents is not evidence of corruption,” she added.
“The rented spokespersons and Imran Khan's touts can scream and shout all they want, they cannot prove charges of corruption.”
Separately, Tarar said there were two Pakistans, one where Special Assistant Zulfikar Bukhari's name was struck off the Exit Control List (ECL) in one and a half hours and the other where despite court orders, the system was not updated.
“The Supreme Court rejected NAB's [National Accountability Bureau] plea to place Shehbaz Sharif's name on the ECL,” he claimed.
“The NAB-Niazi nexus then tried to place his name on the travel blacklist,” he added,
“Adding Shehbaz Sharif's name to the PNIL is contempt of court.”
Answering a query, Tarar said the party would review all its legal options.
“We had a letter frim the interior ministry saying that Shehbaz Sharif’s name had been removed from the ECL.”
In response, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said only the FIA director general had the authority to place somebody's name on the travel blacklist.
“His [Shehbaz's] lawyers have yet to challenge the FIA DG’s decision in court. Record can't be altered on verbal communication alone,” he added.
A senior FIA official, requesting anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the PML-N president had been told three hours before his arrival at the airport that his name was on the PNIL and he should have it removed from the list like he did in the case of the ECL.
“His [Shehbaz’s] protocol officers Fahad Shakeel and Sarwar came to the airport at around 12:30am with his passport. When the immigration officers entered the passport number in the system, it showed that his name was on the PNIL,” the official elaborated.
“They told the protocol officers to tell Shehbaz not to reach the airport. They informed Marriyum Aurangzeb at around 1am. Later, Marriyum, along with Azma Bokhari and Attaullah Tarar, arrived at the airport and on their insistence, we showed them that the system can't process Shehbaz sahib's name.”
In fact, he added, Marriyum even had a heated argument with the FIA officials present at the airport and forcibly tried taking a picture of the system.
“Later when Shehbaz sahib came to the airport, we kept telling him that his name was on the PNIL but he insisted that the court order must be implemented.”
The FIA official said the PML-N president’s name had been placed on the PNIL on NAB's request.
“Only the interior ministry is empowered to have someone blacklisted. Former ISI chief Asad Durrani's name was also on the ECL and he wasn't allowed to leave the country until he had his name removed from the list,” the official added.
“We were only doing our job. We only follow orders.”
Another FIA official disclosed on the condition of anonymity that in the light of LHC's orders, Shehbaz would not be stopped from flying out of the country. He added that there was a procedure to include and remove names from such lists.
“No exception will be made for Shehbaz Sharif or any other,” he added.
“Once the court will send an attested copy of the decision via its registrar office to the FIA, its DG would forward it to the IBMS [integrated Boarder Management System] director, who will then execute the decision.”
The official said the FIA would not proceed with the copy available with the PML-N. “There a procedure involved here that takes around four to five working days.”
Another FIA official said the term widely being used by the PML-N and media “person-not in-fly-list” or “person-not-in-list” for the PNIL was incorrect.
“It is actually the abbreviation for the provincial national identification list,” he clarified.