ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader set to become Pakistani prime minister for a historic 3rd term, is a millionaire steel tycoon, considered strong on the economy but soft on the Taliban.
The 63-year-old, who was sentenced to life in prison after being deposed in a military coup in 1999, has a powerbase rooted in Pakistan’s richest and most populous province, where he is known as the Lion of the Punjab.
Immaculately groomed and dressed always in a pristine shalwar kamiz with a sharply cut waistcoat, he appeared relaxed and satisfied as he declared victory for his center-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party.
But after campaigning as a statesman in waiting, he inherits an impossible job, not just in stitching together a coalition government but in taking on the enormous problems of the sagging economy and a stifling energy crisis.
“We should thank Allah that he has given PML-N another chance to serve you and Pakistan,” he told jubilant supporters who shouted “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif” and his nickname “lion” as they danced and waved flags overnight.
According to the unofficial, partial results it appeared that no single party would win a simple majority of 172 seats in the national assembly, raising the prospect of protracted talks to form a coalition government.
Prime minister twice already, from 1990 to 1993, and from 1997 to 1999, but softly spoken and shy with the international media, he is considered a pragmatist in the West despite comments opposing US intervention in the war on Al-Qaeda.
He has also called for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, blamed for killing thousands of Pakistanis in the past 6 years.
Sharif was born on December 25, 1949 into a wealthy family of industrialists in Lahore, the capital of Punjab and the political nerve centre of Pakistan.
He was educated privately at English-language schools and secured a degree in law from the University of Punjab before joining his father’s steel company.
The family suffered hugely when Pakistan’s centre-left prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto nationalised private industry in the 1970s and as the elder son, Sharif was quickly dispatched into politics.
Under the patronage of military ruler Zia-ul Haq he became first finance minister and then chief minister of Punjab — a post he held for 5 years from 1985 until he was elected prime minister in 1990.
He beat arch-rival Benazir Bhutto in the polls and served a 3-year term until he was sacked on corruption charges and replaced by Bhutto.
In 1997, he won a landslide two-thirds majority for his PML-N and set about cementing his liberal economic policies.
He privatised state industries and built a high-speed motorway from the northwestern city of Peshawar to Lahore on the Indian border.
In 1998, he won huge popularity when he made Pakistan a nuclear power, but his government buckled under tensions with the army, which in 1999 seized power.
Sharif was sentenced in a military court to life imprisonment for hijacking and terrorism, before being allowed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000.
After 7 years in the wilderness he was allowed to return in 2007 and his PML-N party came second in the 2008 election, won by the Pakistan People’s Party on a wave of sympathy following the assassination of its leader Bhutto.
Corruption, tax evasion and money-laundering allegations against the Sharifs, who have a huge family estate near Lahore, have never been proved in court.
Sharif has promised to transform the country’s economy, end corruption in state-owned enterprises build a motorway from Lahore to Karachi, Pakistan’s business capital on the Arabian Sea, and launch a bullet train.
Analysts believe he will have little option but to negotiate a fresh loan from the International Monetary Fund, to stave off a balance of payments crisis, but Sharif says he believes Pakistan can survive on its own resources.
His younger brother, Shahbaz, considered more intelligent but less charismatic than Nawaz, has been chief minister for the past five years of Punjab, where he has built bridges and inaugurated Pakistan’s first metro bus service.
Sharif is married and has 4 children. His daughter Maryam has campaigned on his behalf in his Lahore constituency, earning praise for a charisma that has earmarked her out as his possible successor. – Rappler.com
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