The sick politicians of Pakistan

From digestive disorders to acute conditions, trial-phobia to Panamonia, Pakistani politicians have suffered for long.

But the ailments strike them just when they are facing political troubles.

Gladly there is a cure; (un)fortunately, it is never in Pakistan. So they travel abroad, far away from the only place they would rather be – Pakistan.

Though their health is a matter of public concern, people also become worried about their leaders when they are found in shopping malls instead of hospitals.

Indeed, the state-of-art healthcare facilities are available in the country. Two of the four military dictators of Pakistan, Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq, were treated within the country and none of them went abroad for treatment. Even more recently when MNA Makhdoom Javed Hashmi suffered brain hemorrhage, he was looked after by a team of Pakistani neurosurgeons at the Lahore General Hospital. He recovered fully and later he went overseas for further treatment.

But to most top politicians, whether civilians or military men, local hospitals cannot provide respite from their political troubles.

As soon as political storms subside, these sick VVIPs return to the country. Yet there are some others who are eternally ill. Not to mention the MQM supremo, Altaf Hussain, who has been living in self-exile for past 20 years.

Maybe one day our rulers will realize how costly their visits are to the public exchequer. Imagine how many hundreds of Basic Health Units could have been upgraded by providing just 50 percent of the total expenditure of a single visit of PM Sharif to London.

Nawaz Sharif enjoys the lion’s share of public support and a huge following in Pakistan and abroad. Stalwart supporters would give away anything for the PML-N chief – “Waddey Mian Sahb” – despite their own miserable conditions. But what would Nawaz Sharif be willing to sacrifice? Another medical check-up in London. No!

Indeed, it is in the larger interest of the country that the PM keeps going abroad. A confrontation would only make him unpalatable, like Pervez Musharraf – the unwell commando who fled to Dubai with the government’s permission in the dead of night; obviously for a check-up. Interestingly, he is also in London now.

Besides their infinite number of luxury foreign trips, most of the political leaders this country has suffered so far received their early education abroad and spent a good part of their lives in foreign countries.

Let’s have a brief look on the political leadership of Pakistan and their medical trips to foreign countries:

Sharif Brothers


Perhaps Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has some genuine medical concerns. A person with his job demands and diet plans is likely to suffer from more than a few heartburns. He must visit London every summer for at least a month. But he rarely comes back straight to the country whenever he flies out.

Apart from going on a shopping spree in central London, his unhealthy exits and healthy arrivals mostly include an Umrah, in a gesture of loyalty to the Almighty, and also to the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques.

The three time prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif peacefully lived in exile in Saudi Arabia after his government was ousted by the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 1999. A lorry load of luggage, including carpets, heaters and stuffed lions, was put on a Saudi plane on the night of Dec 9, 2000.

On landing in Jeddah, Nawaz Sharif went straight to Makkah to say a prayers of thanks. The Saudis, who also took in Idi Amin, the deposed Ugandan dictator, in 1980, imposed a news blackout on the Sharif family’s arrival.

Nawaz Sharif returned to the country after seven good years, in November 2007, and was soon elevated into power once again. Since he assumed PM office in June 2013, when his party, PML-N, came into power, Nawaz Sharif set a unique record with 14 foreign trips in less than a year.

The visits – both of official and personal nature – were made to China, UK, USA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Holland, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, Belarus, Tajikistan, India, France, and Russia.

In his three years of service to the Pakistani nation, our prime minister was sorely missed during his 70 foreign trips – a figure far exceeding the number of PM’s visits to the Parliament.

However, I wonder why his younger brother, Punjab CM Mian Shehbaz Sharif, has not planned any foreign trip lately. Perhaps the PM’s imaginary heart conditions are more severe than his brother’s actual cancer.

Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari


Technically, Benazir Bhutto spent more than half of her 54-year life out of Pakistan. While her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who is very much alive, may no longer be burdened with public office. However, as he reminds the nation at every opportunity he gets, his body has suffered a great deal in his decades-long struggle for democracy.

Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007) was the first democratically elected female leader of a Muslim country during a tumultuous life that ended with her assassination. She served two terms as prime minister of Pakistan, in 1988–90 and in 1993–96.

After completing her early education in Pakistan, she pursued higher education in the United States. From 1969 to 1973, she attended Radcliffe College, and then Harvard University, where she graduated with a B.A. degree in comparative government. It was then onto the United Kingdom to study at Oxford from 1973 to 1977. There, she completed a course in International Law and Diplomacy.

The daughter of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) founder and PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, BB took over as chairperson of the PPP in 1982. After her two stints as prime minister ended early amid charges of corruption, Bhutto spent several years in exile in London. She returned to Pakistan with plans to participate in the 2008 general election, but was killed during an attack at a PPP rally in late 2007.

There was more family tragedy in 1980 when Bhutto’s brother Shahnawaz was killed in his apartment on the Riviera in 1980. The family insisted that he was poisoned, but no charges were brought forward. Another brother, Murtaza, died in 1996 (while his sister was in power) in a gun battle with police in Karachi.

Benazir moved to England in 1984, becoming the joint leader in exile of the PPP, then returned to Pakistan on April 10, 1986, to launch a nationwide campaign for ‘open elections.

Bhutto married a wealthy landowner, Mr Zardari, in Karachi on December 18, 1987. The couple had three children: son Bilawal and two daughters, Bakhtawar and Aseefa.

Health doesn’t seem to be an issue linked to the slain politician, who was elected as the first woman prime minister of a Muslim nation barely three months after giving birth to her first child in 1988.

Her trips were mostly pre-arranged by military rulers.

Bhutto was defeated in the 1990 election, and found herself in court defending herself against several charges of misconduct while in office. Bhutto continued to be a prominent focus of discontent, and won a further election in 1993, but was replaced in 1996.

While in self-imposed exile in Britain and Dubai, she was convicted in 1999 of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison. She continued to direct her party from abroad, being re-affirmed as PPP leader in 2002.

After nine years of exile in London and Dubai, Bhutto returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007, after President Musharraf granted her amnesty on all corruption charges, opening the way for her return and a possible power-sharing agreement.

The same year she was killed when an assassin fired shots and then blew himself up after an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.

However Mr Zardari still lives. But the Pakistani nation is still in the dark as to the nature of disease the former president is suffering from. In the past, Zardari had a mild myocardial infarction, a mild stroke, and a clot in his neck.

There had been also reports of adverse reactions to some drugs which he was prescribed for treatment of fever but the truth, nobody knows.

This is indeed a tragedy that Pakistani nation are never told the truth about the health of these sick politicians. But the most unfortunate statement came when Mr Zardari was himself the President of Pakistan: “The President left for Dubai as he did not trust hospitals in Pakistan and that he would be back soon.”

Gladly, Zardari too had found a ‘permanent’ cure for his ailment; a long stay in Dubai. Rumor has it the former president is undergoing a therapy to tame his anti-military tongue.

Pervez Musharraf


Probably the last military dictator of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf is the most puzzling case for medical experts – the more unwell he is, the better he looks.

In the unverified pictures circulating soon after he left the country recently for “urgent and serious medical care”, Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf looked in fine fettle.

Back in 1998, he was healthy enough to be promoted over other senior officers by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to be the Army chief of staff. He became even more potent when he took power from Nawaz Sharif in a 1999 coup.

There is nothing in common between these two rivals, except the medical check-ups in foreign countries and pilgrimage to the Holy Land during troubling times.

His recent departure abroad after his name was finally taken off the Exit Control List means that, at least until the next election, due in 2018, this particular cause of friction between the civilian government and the military has taken a backseat.

Musharraf is someone facing capital charges, and he has gone abroad as an under-trial accused on bail from the various courts trying him. He is also not just a former Chief of Army Staff, but one of the four heads of the Army to have taken over the government, and the offences for which he is being tried all relate to that period of rule.

Indeed, the high treason charge which he faces was directly related to his having been COAS.

Apart from his inglorious trials, Pervez Musharraf is one of the political leaders of Pakistan who got his early education abroad. His father, Syed Musharraf Uddin, was a member of the Pakistani Foreign Service and later, retired as secretary of foreign affairs. His mother, Zarin, worked for the United Nations Organization.The family spent seven years, from 1949 to 1956, in Istanbul, Turkey, where his father was a diplomat.

Pervez Musharraf became fluent in Turkish and gained an appreciation for Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Later the family moved back to Pakistan, and Musharraf attended St. Patrick’s School in Karachi and graduated in 1958. He later attended Forman Christian College in Lahore before joining the army.

Since his ouster in 2008 amid growing discontent over his rule, Musharraf has lived in Dubai and London with only a few visits back to his country.

In October 2010, after a period of self-imposed exile, Musharraf announced the formation of a new political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League. He also vowed to return to Pakistan in time for the 2013 national elections. He did so, but his bid to stand in elections was blocked, including several open criminal investigations regarding his actions as president.

His return proved futile, and the former president escaped out of the country on a ‘medical leave’, skipping high treason and high-profile murder cases.

The move is considered to be a repeat of events in 2001 when incumbent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family were sent to Saudi Arabia under a deal. Almost 13 years on, Musharraf was trading places with Nawaz.

The sole difference between then and now is that Musharraf was given safe passage on health grounds.

Altaf Hussain


Altaf Hussain, a naturalized citizen living in the United Kingdom, is unique among Pakistani politicians.

The MQM supremo has been living in self-exile in London since 1992, and has run his party from a nondescript office block in the northern suburb of Edgware.

The trajectory which took Altaf out of Pakistan in 1992 would have ended with assassination, which was then perhaps the only way he could be removed from the scene. Now, he is of an age when he could easily die naturally.

Like any monarch, as well as Pakistani party leader, he does not look kindly upon successors, even potential ones, and bestrides the MQM like a ‘Colossus’. But Mr Altaf has always been generous to his devotees.

Many of them are in ‘laundry business’ now, and are being called ‘dissidents’ for their blatant attacks on the godfather himself.

Had it been before the sanctity of Nine Zero was breached, Altaf Hussain would have taken care of his rogue disciples. Altaf is no more but a chopped liver now.

This reminds me of Altaf’s real problem – his liver and mouth – cancer it is. But has he found a cure? The party sure did: absolute tranquility.

Rarely Altaf Hussain feels an urge to move out of his wonderland, and go for a check-up. PM Nawaz would insist why Mr Altaf ever needed one when he is already in London. Might he find out during his ongoing medical trip to London.

Altaf can also humor Mr PM well, certainly not with his biological buzz, but the art of living in London – in exile.

A meeting would surely be welcomed by MQM leaders in Pakistan who are likely to join hands with PML-N on the issue of the Panama Papers. Well, this is doable, only if PM Nawaz could dodge the Scotland Yard that is probing into a money laundering case involving Altaf Hussain.

Altaf can really be of great help to Nawaz, considering their mutual misfortune.

Caution: Imran Khan is all eyes and ears.

Imran Khan


One of the Imran Khan’s maladies is his inflexible ideology – a persistent belief that he himself can correct all wrongs.

Obsessed with the idea of fixing the country, Mr Khan might want to look into his own party first.

The shocking incidents of sexual assault at PTI rallies not only exposed poor management of the party organizers, but also the hideous face of our urban society infected with unending frustration.

And if Mr Khan – a self-styled ‘political oncologist’ – still holds the ‘passion’ that he alone could all treat the power addicts – once and for all – then he really needs to take the cure.

Even as the high-and-mighty chief of PTI has been a selfless source of inspiration for many who are filthy rich, but to Khan, money only matter when its ‘white’ and coming from ‘crystal clear’ donors. As he tells the nation about his well-earned money brought in the country through a shell company that stayed open for nearly 32 years.

At least Khan admitted his misdeeds publicly. Hussain Nawaz Sharif too did the same, days before being exposed by Panama Papers. Well, it is never too late to mend things on your own terms.

At this age, Khan still looks as fit as a fiddle due to his background in sports. But the Pakistani nation, especially who voted in his favour, often worries about his future. People actually start hoping against all hope, just when Imran Khan orders a new Black Sherwani.

Quite often, Khan’s self-portraying motivational speech is also taken as a classic piece of overstatement.

Only Fazalur Rehman is taking Mr Khan seriously nowadays, being easily offended by Khan’s anti-Maulana remarks. But the objection is valid: Politicians in Pakistan should not lecture on religion, just like mullahs are supposed to stay apolitical.

Having this profound dignity of leadership in focus, Imran Khan must find remedy for his religio-political pains as soon as possible.