Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and several senior leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) departed Pakistan for the U.K. late on Tuesday to meet with party leader Nawaz Sharif and hold consultations on the prevailing situation in the country.
Announcing the trip during a press conference, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said it was a private visit by PMLN leaders to meet their party leader. Referring to criticism over the trip—opponents have claimed the prime minister is seeking ‘instruction’ from the elder Sharif—she said that the visit’s purpose was being blown out of proportion. Stressing that it was part of a consultative process that was routine for most political parties, she singled out criticism from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, claiming “a party that relies solely on the whims of a single person would not be aware of how democratic parties function.”
A few hours after her press conference, ousted prime minister Imran Khan—falsely—told a campaign rally that the “entire cabinet” was going to meet the “corrupt and convicted” Sharif on the taxpayers’ expense. Aurangzeb had already clarified that only PMLN leaders would be traveling to London and that they would be paying for the trip out-of-pocket. None of the cabinet members of coalition partners, including the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Fazl, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan are part of the private trip.
According to local media, 10 members of the PMLN have flown to London to meet Nawaz Sharif, including P.M. Sharif, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Power Minister Khurram Dastagir, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, and Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq.
Critics in the media, meanwhile, have questioned the “optics” of the visit at a time when the country is in economic doldrums and the ruling coalition is struggling to enact measures to ensure relief for a general public already struggling under rampant inflation.
Sources have claimed that the meeting is set to discuss various matters related to the functioning of the PMLN as well as the new coalition government, including the possibility of early elections; a fuel subsidy announced by the ousted PTI government that economic experts have warned is unsustainable; and differences within the party over how to proceed in the incumbent setup.