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Stormy political journey of Pakistan’s ex-PM

Zia Khan

Only a few months ago, Nawaz Sharif was Pakistan’s most powerful man, overseeing massive development projects and dealing with delicate foreign policy issues such as the future of Afghanistan and his country’s relations with the West.  But in a dramatic reversal of fortune, he now faces imminent arrest in the country which he has ruled three times since 1990.

On Thursday, an accountability court in the capital Islamabad issued a bailable warrant for Sharif on graft charges he and his family have faced since his removal on July 28.  He was forced to step down following an investigation into his family that was based on allegations emanating from last year’s leaked Panama Papers.

It is not the first time that Sharif was removed from the office before completing his term. His two previous stints in power also ended prematurely.

In the past he has been thrown out, put in jail, tried on different charges and even convicted, but each time has made a successful comeback.

He was prime minister during 1990-93 and again from 1997 until October 1999, the second term cut short when he was ousted in a coup by his army chief Pervez Musharraf.

The scion of wealthy industrialists from the eastern city of Lahore, Sharif’s father founded Ittefaq Industries during World War II by opening a steel smelting plant, which was nationalised under prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972.

Military General Zia ul Haq overthrew Bhutto in 1977 and Sharif became his protege, winning back the family business three years later.

Sharif got his first political success when he was elected as a provincial lawmaker in 1985 from Punjab, where he served as finance minister in the regional cabinet.

He became Punjab’s chief minister in 1988 and the country’s prime minister in 1990. He resigned in 1993 after a political stand-off with the military-backed president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

Sharif deregulated the economy in his first term, winning the support of the business class. But plans for a major highway and a taxi scheme for the jobless burdened the budget and government banks. His second term, which was cut short by the Musharraf-led coup that forced him to seek exile in Saudi Arabia, was marked by his decision to authorise Pakistan’s first nuclear test.

His decision to push for constitutional reform to curtail the influence of the army and judiciary was seen as a main catalyst for the coup.

Sharif was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of terrorism and corruption.

But a deal allegedly brokered by Saudi Arabia allowed him to avoid time in jail. During his exile, some members of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party defected to Musharraf’s side.

Sharif came back to Pakistan in 2007, and his party came second in general elections a year later.

He used the time after his return from Saudi Arabia to clear his name in the courts. Sharif, 67, came to power for a third time after his party’s landslide victory in the 2013 elections.

Once in office, he took some aggressive decisions to curtail the military’s grip on foreign policy, especially on Pakistan’s dealings with its rival India.

The powerful Pakistani military establishment views India as an enemy, but Sharif wanted to build up economic and trade ties to improve overall relations, something the generals didn’t like.

In fact, in February 1999 Sharif had a historic meeting in Lahore with then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee aimed at defusing tension in the region following nuclear tests by both countries in 1998.

But Sharif clashed with his then army chief Musharraf over his peace overtures to India.

Sharif’s current tenure was rocked by turmoil in the form of public rallies held by opposition leader Imran Khan’s supporters and a power struggle with former army chief Raheel Sharif.

He stepped down on July 28 after being disqualified by the Supreme Court.

Born in Lahore on December 25, 1949, Sharif has two sons and two daughters. One of his daughters, Maryam Nawaz, is considered his political successor. — dpa

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