Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday left for Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah along with 12 members of his family.
The premier departed from Lahore airport aboard a regular Pakistan International Airlines flight, a handout issued by the Prime Minister’s House said. It added that the premier and his family would bear all expenses incurred on the trip themselves.
According to sources, Prime Minister Nawaz plans to remain in Saudi Arabia till Eidul Fitr but will still look after his official duties two hours every day using modern technology. They said the premier will stay at his son Hussain Nawaz’s residence.
In addition to performing Umrah, Prime Minister Nawaz will also meet members of the Saudi royal family, exchanging both gifts – which include mangoes – and thoughts on issues common between Riyadh and Islamabad, sources said.
According to them, the premier will approach concerned quarters in the Saudi Arabia and ask them to help mend relations between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government and the top intelligence agency.
Sources revealed Prime Minister Nawaz was provided extra protocol as he left for Saudi Arabia at the cost of the national exchequer.
In particular, the premier was allowed to carry with him 231 cartons of mangoes despite the ban on carrying the fruit to the kingdom, according to them. Due to the weight of the mangoes, the PIA flight flew with only 60 passengers on board as opposed to the regular 300 passengers, they said, adding that this deprived the airline of over Rs20 million.
Sources also said that due to the presence of the premier, the PIA was forced to declare the flight VVIP for security reasons. This was another reason why more passengers weren’t allowed, they said.
Shahbaz calls on Nawaz
Prime Minister Nawaz, who reached Lahore on Saturday, spent much of Sunday with his younger brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, at Jati Umra, sources said.
According to them, the premier discussed several issues with his brother, including the briefing he received on Operation Zarb-e-Azb at GHQ, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s August 14 long march and Tahirul Qadri’s expected call of revolution.
It was decided that Shahbaz and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will deal with any untoward incidents emerging from both PTI and Qadri’s protests, and will finalise the party’s political strategy in this regard. The interior minister met the Punjab chief minister on Sunday as well.
Sources said Nisar will also look after the federal government in the premier’s absence, with assistance from Shahbaz. As part of PML-N’s strategy for August 14, it has been decided that the party will hold public gatherings at each of its divisional headquarters in Punjab.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2014.