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Pakistan to allow ailing Nawaz Sharif to travel abroad

File photo of former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Photograph:( Twitter )

AFP Islamabad Nov 10, 2019, 04.00 PM (IST)

Pakistan will allow ailing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to travel abroad for urgent medical treatment, the country's foreign minister said Sunday.

Sharif, Pakistan's longest-serving premier, was ousted from his third term in office in 2017 and later jailed on corruption charges.

His health deteriorated while in prison and he suffered a minor heart attack last month, his party said, while his doctor claimed on Twitter that the ex-leader was "fighting for his life".

Sharif was bailed for health reasons and remains at a hospital in the eastern city of Lahore, but a travel ban prevented him from leaving the country.

Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Sunday that "legal obstacles" to Sharif's departure were being removed as doctors had said that medical treatment abroad was needed to save his life.

"The government has given importance to the doctors' opinion," Qureshi told reporters in the central city of Multan, days after Sharif's relatives petitioned Pakistan's interior ministry for the travel ban to be lifted.

"We pray to God for his recovery, so that he returns with good health and take part in politics," he added.

A source in Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party said the former leader would now likely fly to London in the coming days.

Sharif, known as the "Lion of Punjab", is a political survivor who has repeatedly roared back to the country's top office, underscoring the unpredictable nature of Pakistani politics.

A hugely wealthy steel tycoon from Punjab, Pakistan's wealthiest province, the 69-year-old was considered strong on the economy and infrastructure but inherited sagging finances and a stifling energy crisis when he was elected for the third time in 2013.

He earned a reputation for combativeness during his two previous terms as prime minister, from 1990 to 1993, when he was sacked, also on corruption charges, and from 1997 to 1999, when he was deposed by the powerful military.

Sharif blamed the security establishment for again targeting him in 2017 when the Supreme Court disqualified him from politics for life over graft allegations, which he denies.

He later received a seven-year jail sentence.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who defeated Sharif's party in last year's general election, has since launched a high-profile and controversial anti-corruption drive that has targeted several leaders of Sharif's party.