Speculation is rife in Pakistan of a possible change of guard as the Nawaz Sharif government readies itself for a verdict by the Supreme Court on the Panama Papers scandal in the coming week.
Saturday’s surprise development where Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was diagnosed with kidney stones at a private Lahore clinic suggests the ground is being set for his possible departure to some foreign country while a caretaker government is put in place.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Sharif celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary at the Raiwind Palace in Lahore.
Pictures released to the media show his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif by his side. It is expected that Shahbaz Sharif may be asked to take over for the time being as the prime minister leaves for London.
Other names that have sprung up for caretaker prime minister are finance minister Ishaq Dar, who is also related to the Sharif family by marriage.
The meeting between Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan last week is also seen to have taken place in that context, say analysts.
Last year when the Panama Papers scandal indicted three of Sharif’s children, the prime minister went to London for more than a month ostensibly for heart treatment. It was only after things had settled that he returned to the country.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan is expected to announce the much-awaited judgment in the Panama Papers case by mid-April.
A five-member bench of the apex court had concluded hearing on the case on February 23, and the final judgment was reserved.
The bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa comprises justices Ejaz Afzal Khan, Gulzar Ahmed, Sh Azmat Saeed and Ijazul Ahsan.
Leaked documents from the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama last year had showed Nawaz Shairf’s sons Hassan and Hussain, and daughter Maryam, owned at least three offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which studied the papers, said those companies had engaged in at least $25 million in property and acquisition deals.
The prime minister said his children have done nothing illegal, but opponents accuse the family of using the tax haven to launder stolen money and dodge taxes.