IT is a rum thing when a three-time prime minister needs a diplomatic passport to re-enter his own country.
A blue diplomatic passport is normally issued to “senators, members of the National Assembly, provincial ministers, judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and high courts, officers serving with the governments when abroad on official assignments, and other government officials”. Over the years, this elastic category has been expanded to include former presidents, ex-prime ministers, former Senate chairmen, ex-National Assembly Speakers, their spouses and dependent children — everyone except their cooks and chowkidars.
The blue passport should be surrendered within 30 days of the holder’s retirement from service, but like every such facility, it is open to abuse. Holders hang on to them as if it were a gateway to heaven.
The official blue passport allows entry to some 70 countries around the world without a visa. However, few countries indulge Pakistanis with such dangerous largesse. Russia is one of the few countries that does, but then, who is tempted to visit Russia on a one-way ticket?
When will Nawaz Sharif return, and to what?
Some years ago, in 2013, there was a scandal after it was discovered that “at least 2,000 blue passports were allegedly either sold to influential people at a hefty price ranging between Rs1.5 million and Rs2 million each, or issued to undeserving officials between July 2010 and February 2013”.
The dozing watchdog NAB was woken to investigate and discovered that billions of rupees had been made by “a powerful gang comprising at least one former federal minister, [and] many senior officials of the Ministry of Interior and Directorate-General of Immigration and Passports”.
Read: What next for Nawaz?
With so many blue passports floating around the world, one is reminded of the custom at the 19th century Prussian court. It awarded decorations discriminately. It was said that a thief once took away all the valuable decorations he could lay his hands on — except for the Prussian award. He had that already.
Mian Nawaz Sharif has been living in London for the past three years without the conventional green passport. Now that he is legally equipped to travel, when will he return to Pakistan, and to what?
From the frequency of the consultations between him as the power behind Shehbaz Sharif’s throne, it might be more cost-effective for the national exchequer for them to reside in the same country.
And to which throne will Nawaz Sharif return? Certainly not the prime ministership. He has occupied that throne of thorns thrice already. It has to be the presidency, with all its vacuous pomp, its horse-drawn landau, and tinsel paraphernalia. After the promulgation of the 18th Amendment, he does not even need to wield the executioner’s sword of Article 58-2 (b) against his brother, as it was earlier used against him.
The only thing that stands between Nawaz Sharif and the presidency is the obstinacy of the present incumbent, Dr Arif Alvi. He has completed the minimum period of two years to qualify for a pension and lucrative perquisites.
Meanwhile, in London, Nawaz Sharif must be occupying his time watching the game he and Imran Khan share a passion for — cricket. Like millions of their compatriots, they must have been mortified to watch our national T20 team come so close to success at Melbourne, only to be thwarted by two Pakistani-origin players holding British passports.
There is no one in Pakistan who did not feel the pain of Shaheen Shah Afridi’s knee injury or share Iftikhar’s disappointment at conceding 13 crucial game-turning runs during his over. But then, that is the nature of this fickle game. Our team played with commendable vigour and skill. It deserves national recognition for its endeavours. It may not have won the T20 trophy but it earned our lasting respect.
Jokes were bandied about that had Babar Azam won the T20 World Cup, he would have qualified to be our future prime minister. That is a long shot, as remote a possibility as Nawaz Sharif’s youthful ambition to play test cricket.
In 1997, just before the official visit of the late Queen Elizabeth II, I met Mian Nawaz Sharif. He reminded me that, in the mid-1960s, he had gone especially to the Lahore Gymkhana to see my elder brother play. He asked me whether I played cricket too. I replied: “I fear not.” He insisted that I should: “It is a good game.” I replied that, as he was the PM, his word was my command; but at my age, he should not have any expectations of me.
Whenever Nawaz Sharif decides to return to Pakistan on his blue passport, the country should not harbour any expectations of him, not at his age. His only interest now is to play the game, but from the presidential pavilion.
The writer is an author
Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2022