Nawaz Sharif - Hot favourite to win Pakistan polls

Supriya Jha

More than a decade after he was unseated from power, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) president Nawaz Sharif looks like the hot favourite to win the Pakistan polls this time and make a record by becoming the only person to be the Prime Minister for the third time.

Nawaz Sharif has earlier served as Pakistani PM twice, (1990-1993 and 1997-1999) and his right-wing party PML-N is the main opposition party against the ruling Pakistan`s Peoples Party.

Sharif is known for being a tad pro-India as he led a peace initiative with India in 1999 but at the same time, he is also the one to have reciprocated India`s nuclear tests with its own nuke bomb tests in Pakistan in 1998.

Born in 1949, on Christmas day - December 25 in Lahore, Nawaz Sharif is thought to have spent a comfortable childhood as the son of an industrial tycoon Muhammad Sharif, who led the famous Ittefaq group of industries, of which he later became the director.

Sharif started his political journey in 1981, when the then military chief General Zia ul Haq appointed him the finance Minister. Riding high on his business virtues that he well harnessed as an FM in Punjab, Sharif bagged the job of Punjab`s Chief Minister in 1985.

The stage was set for Sharif`s promotion as PM, when Benazir Bhutto government trod a downward spiral due to rampant corruption and nepotism. Sharif became the Prime Minister in 1990 and brought with him a fresh entrepreneurial approach to governance and promises to cleanse the system and bring economic reforms.

On the economic front, Nawaz performed well by slackening foreign exchange restrictions and bringing in foreign investment but on the politico-religious front, he goofed up when he tried to impose Sharia law.

In 1993, Sharif confronted a constitutional crisis, as he was mired in a tussle with the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who dissolved the National Assembly. Sharif had to resign eventually but he made sure that Ghulam Ishaq Khan was removed as well.

Sharif`s second spell as Prime Minister was from 1997-99, the highpoint of which was the nuclear tests conducted under him in reciprocation to Pokharan tests By India.

He also brought in amendments to the constitution so as to make it almost impossible to dismiss A Prime Minister. By passing the Thirteenth Amendment, he stripped the President’s power to dismiss the National Assembly and by the Fourteenth Amendment, that subjected Members of Parliament to very strict party discipline. Party leaders received unlimited power to dismiss any of their legislators from Parliament if they spoke or voted against their party. Thus, Nawaz Sharif blocked all legal ways to get dismissed as a PM.

Also, walking in Bhutto`s footsteps, Sharif endorsed the Taliban government in Afghanistan as legitimate.

The year 1999 proved to be an unfortunately eventful year for Sharif as it culminated in a coup and Sharif`s ouster by the same general, whom he had appointed the Army Chief.

The year started on a positive note when in February, he met with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and signed Lahore Accord.

Nawaz Sharif`s inclination towards building better trade and bilateral ties with India also reflects in his campaigning speeches. In one of those, Nawaz was heard recalling conversations with the then Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Once voted to power, Sharif hopes to restart the peace process that was initiated in 1999 and was hampered by the Kargil war, in the same year.

Sharif has had bitter experiences with the military chiefs. Ironically for Sharif, who owes his political beginning to a military chief (being a protege of General Zia ul Haq), his both terms as the Prime Minister, were punctuated after tussle with Military Chiefs. Be it, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and General Waheed Kakar in 1993 or his self chosen General Pervez Musharraf in 1999.

In order to remain above the Armed Forces and threatened by the growing power of Musharraf, Nawaz dismissed him, while the General was aboard a flight.

Musharraf emerged dexterous enough to undo Sharif`s move, and in turn staged a bloodless coup from within the plane. Sharif was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of hijacking an airliner.

H e was subsequently exiled to Saudi Arabia where he spent eight years.

He then returned to Pakistan in September 2007 and his party PML-N contested parliamentary elections in 2008. His party PML-N with PPP formed a coalition government that forced Musharraf’s ouster.

After five calamitous years of PPP governance, Pakistani citizens are expected to vote vehemently in favour of Nawaz Sharif, suggest opinion polls.

Besides being one of the wealthiest men in Pakistan, Sharif is also riding high on the anger wave generated by rampant corruption, frequent power outages and routine terrorism in the country.

Launching his party manifesto, Sharif, whose party symbol is “tiger”, vowed to turn Pakistan into an "Asian tiger", with new infrastructure and a government with "zero tolerance for corruption".

"Our political philosophy revolves around economic progress, If a country is economically strong, it is able to solve all the problems, whether law and order or political extremism," the former PM said.