Please return our fugitive ex-Prime Minister

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The United Kingdom is currently giving safe harbour to Mr. Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who was one of the world leaders named in the Panama Papers scandal. Mr. Sharif was convicted and imprisoned on corruption charges in Pakistan in 2018, following a lengthy investigative and judicial process. After claiming terrible ill-health and getting permission on humanitarian grounds to travel to the UK for emergency medical attention, Mr. Sharif has essentially absconded—now comfortably planted in his residence (purchased through his ill-gotten wealth) in London.

For decades, it has been common knowledge in Pakistan that Mr. Sharif and his political aides are financially corrupt, that they have actively fostered a deep-rooted culture of theft, embezzlement and nepotism in government institutions and in the private sector in Pakistan, and that they are involved in extensive money laundering networks internationally.

Mr. Sharif has frequently used past incarnations of the military establishment to come to power at the expense of other (equally corrupt but slightly more democratic) political parties. He has shamelessly bought votes, seats and entire constituencies in the past—in fact, he does it in every election, contributing to a general perception in Pakistan that this is par for the course as politics go. He also tried in the late 1990s to have himself declared Supreme Leader of Pakistan for life.

Since there is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and the UK for political fugitives, Mr. Nawaz Sharif feels secure enough to make inflammatory speeches online to his party workers in Pakistan, in which he is basically inciting them to revolt against the country's army. These speeches started after he and senior members of his party failed to negotiate an agreement with the army chief, who outrightly refused to apply pressure on the Pakistan government to have the cases against him dismissed.

Mysteriously, Mr. Sharif's speeches have coincided with a sudden revival of sectarian conflict in Pakistan (at the behest of his party's closest political ally, the Ahl-e Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a right-wing Sunni religious party known for endorsing mass murder of members of the Shia faith). Even stranger, Mr. Sharif's recent speeches have coincided—with chilling precision—with an uptick in terrorist attacks on the Pakistan army, resulting in several casualties in just the last few days.

The dangers of triggering civil unrest and civil-military conflict, and the impact this could have on Pakistan's national security and the fragile regional security of South Asia, are evident. But there's something else at work here, too. 

It is important to call out Mr. Sharif's speeches and attempts at inciting unrest for what they really are: pressure on the Pakistan army to interfere in the political process. In other words, he wants the army to capitulate to his demands and the government to fall, in order to buy his silence and to pave the way for his daughter to lead his political party to power.  

Simply put, while pretending to be a hero of democracy, Mr. Nawaz Sharif is trying to derail the democratic process itself.

We, the citizens of Pakistan, who care deeply for our country and wish to build a secure and prosperous future for it, denounce Mr. Sharif's duplicitous, dangerous behaviour, and the fact that he is being allowed to orchestrate all of this from UK soil.

We strongly urge the United Kingdom to return Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan so he can go back to prison to complete his sentence, as our country's top judiciary deemed fit.

We ask the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office to show commitment to its self-stated mission to project the UK as a force for good in the world. Defend democratic values by supporting political stability in Pakistan, work with the current government to fight poverty, and tackle the global challenge of corruption and money laundering in partnership with Pakistan. Ultimately, all of this is in the joint national interests of Pakistan and the United Kingdom.

Do not tolerate the attempts of an escaped, corrupt despot with right-wing connections to create trouble in Pakistan and beyond for his own short-term gains.

Send Mr. Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan.