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In pictures: The rise and fall of Nawaz Sharif

The story of how a young man with little interest in politics became Pakistan's prime minister — thrice.
Updated Aug 09, 2017 11:59am

Early years

Nawaz Sharif with his brother Shahbaz and father Muhammad Sharif escorting a Chinese delegation.
Nawaz Sharif with his brother Shahbaz and father Muhammad Sharif escorting a Chinese delegation.

Born on December 25, 1949 in Lahore, Nawaz Sharif is the eldest son to Mr and Mrs Muhammad Sharif. His father was a wealthy industrialist and had founded the Ittefaq and Sharif Group.

“The Sharif family is a patriarchal and conservative family. They came to industry in the 1930s, at a time when hardly a few Muslim families had a name in the industry,” says senior analyst Nusrat Javed.

They became futuristic because they came into the steel business. There was one other group, Batala Engineering Company (BECO), and then them [the Sharifs]. Their story is pretty much one of rags to riches… six or seven brothers who came from Jati Umra to Lahore rose because of sheer hard work."

"By the time 1947 happened, they became prominent. As far as old Lahore is concerned, even in 1947, they were a recognised rich family who were considered industrialists.”

Mr Sharif attended Saint Anthony’s High School for his early schooling before enrolling in Government College Lahore and subsequently obtaining his Law Degree from the Punjab University.

"He doesn’t have great friendships from school days. They are from a mohalla called Ram Galla in the Circular Road area," says Javed.

"Close to Partition, the family moved to Model Town. He mostly mingled with the neighbourhood boys rather than the boys from his school. His hobbies were cricket, watching films and then driving. In Government College Lahore, he was friends with Khawaja Asif but not many of his good friendships are from school."

"This ties into the patriarchal family set up, as you become friends with people living close to you and your family. Being friends with school boys, skipping class and these riots would not be possible in the presence of Mian Sharif.”

Nawaz Sharif with his wife Kulsoom.
Nawaz Sharif with his wife Kulsoom.

Later, Mr Sharif joined his family’s influential House of Ittefaq (Ittefaq Group), an industrial conglomerate with interests in sugar, steel, and textiles.


Venturing into politics

Mr Sharif began his political career during a period where many industries, including the Sharif’s steel business, was nationalised by Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. In 1976, he joined the Pakistan Muslim League, which had a strong footing in Punjab.

“When their industry was nationalised by Bhutto, the family took it very seriously," Javed continues. "They began to think of having a spot in politics. They held a grudge against Bhutto. It may sound cynical, but Nawaz’s father pushed him to politics because he didn’t think he would do business."

Nawaz was first a part of the Punjab cabinet as finance minister during General Ziaul Haq’s regime and in 1981, he joined the Punjab Advisory Board.

According to Javed: "Nawaz had a distant maternal uncle by the name of Hasan who is largely responsible for his grooming in politics. Ghulam Jilani Khan sb made Nawaz Finance Minister in the Punjab government, but he tasked one of his lackeys, Brigadier Qayum, to take Nawaz under his wing."

Dawn newspaper: April 9, 1985
Dawn newspaper: April 9, 1985

Nawaz was then elected as Chief Minister Punjab in 1985 and was re-elected after the end of martial law in 1988. After the death of Ziaul Haq in August 1988, the Pakistan Muslim League split into two factions, with Sharif taking charge of PML, which later came to be known as PML-N.

"Nawaz Sharif was the product of the military establishment," author and journalist Zahid Hussain tells Dawn.com. "He was brought into the Punjab provincial government in 1984 from nowhere."

"The main objective of Zia’s military government was to prop up an alternative leadership to compete with Benazir Bhutto. He was later made the chief minister of Pakistan’s most powerful province. He represented the trading and business classes of Punjab and owed his political rise with the backing of the Punjabi civil establishment that includes members of the bureaucracy as well as the judiciary."


Tumultuous years as prime minister

Through 1990 Mr Sharif campaigned for the general election as chief of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI). This photo shows Nawaz Sharif, Khaqan Abbasi and Sheikh Rashid responding to IJI supporters' slogans at a big public meeting in Murree.

October 1, 1990.
October 1, 1990.

Hussain says: "Sharif became the prime minister for the first time in 1991 as leader of a right wing alliance known as Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) put together by the military."

"But he soon fell foul with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan as he wanted to accumulate total power. The power struggle led to his fall. A soft coup forced both the president and the prime minister to resign."

October 15, 1990.
October 15, 1990.

Herald cover on October 20, 1990.
Herald cover on October 20, 1990.

Hussain says, "Sharif could not complete both his terms because of his confrontation with other pillars of the state in the first term with the president and in the second with the military. Ironically, it was the same military which was responsible for his political rise."

October 25, 1990.
October 25, 1990.


Mr Sharif was first elected as Pakistan’s prime minister on November 1, 1990. Hussain says, "Shari's victory in the 1991 election against the PPP is owed largely to support from the civil and military leadership."

"IJI was created and financed by the ISI — that was confirmed by a Supreme Court ruling in the Asghar Khan case ruling. The military was not prepared to allow the PPP back in the power after the ouster of her first government."

October 26, 1990.
October 26, 1990.

November 2, 1990.
November 2, 1990.

November 4, 1990.
November 4, 1990.

During his tenure, Mr Sharif announced his nuclear policy, which aimed at continuing the development of nuclear technology to meet the country’s energy needs. He also initiated plans for Pakistan’s first mass road network, the Motorway.

The Prime Minister’s first term came to an abrupt halt, when President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dissolved the National Assembly in April 1993.

April 15, 1993.
April 15, 1993.

April 19, 1993.
April 19, 1993.

A month later, in May 1993, Sharif returned to power when the Supreme Court ruled the presidential order to dissolve the National Assembly as unconstitutional.

May 27, 1993.
May 27, 1993.

May 27, 1993.
May 27, 1993.

May 27, 1993.
May 27, 1993.

After calling for fresh elections in 1993, Mr Sharif lost power to PPP’s Benazir Bhutto and took on the role of the opposition.

Hussain says, "Benazir Bhutto’s return to power in 1993 elections owed it to the military abandoning support to Sharif. Another factor was the disintegration of the IJI."

Nawaz Sharif's second term as Prime Minister

February 3, 1997
February 3, 1997

Mr Sharif’s second term as prime minister came in 1997 when the PML-N won by a landslide in the general elections. During his second term, he continued to be at loggerheads with the judiciary and in November 1997, during a hearing, a large number of his supporters stormed the Supreme Court building to disrupt proceedings.

In this period of turmoil, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif forced President Farooq Leghari to resign and Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was ousted.

February 4, 1997.
February 4, 1997.

"The game of musical chairs continued after the ouster of Benazir Bhutto’s second government as a result of her confrontation with the president and the chief justice. Sharif appeared to have won back the support of the military that contributed to his sweeping the 1997 elections with a record three fourth majority. But that alliance was short lived."

February 16, 1997.
February 16, 1997.

In December 1997, PM Sharif announced that Pakistan would sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) only if India would sign as well. Pakistan successfully carried out its first nuclear test on May 28 1998, followed by a second on May 30.

In 1999, as the situation in Kargil escalated, Mr Sharif’s relationship with the military turned sour. PM Sharif maintained that he had not been informed of the planned attacks in Kargil and that Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf acted alone. Two months on, PM Sharif had deteriorating relationships with the Army, Navy and Air Force, over his handling of the Kargil issue.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is greeted by army chief General Pervez Musharraf on arrival at the snow-clad town of Kail on the border in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir in this February 5, 1999 file photo. — Reuters
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is greeted by army chief General Pervez Musharraf on arrival at the snow-clad town of Kail on the border in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir in this February 5, 1999 file photo. — Reuters

The situation worsened, when in October 1999 PM Sharif attempted to remove the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Chief of Army Staff, General Pervez Musharraf. General Musharraf’s plane was denied landing rights at Karachi airport after PM Sharif ordered it shut, fearing a coup.

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP


However, the plane carrying General Musharraf ultimately landed in Karachi once the Army, upon earlier instructions, had seized power.

"His wayward economic policy and his disregard of the institutional decision process got him into the conflict with the military. Later his attempt to improve relations with India and the Kargil misadventure also intensified the conflict with the Generals that ultimately led to the military take over in 1999."

October 13, 1999
October 13, 1999

After the coup, Mr Sharif was tried in an Anti Terrorism Court for “kidnapping, attempted murder, hijacking, terrorism and corruption” and was handed a life sentence.

Under an agreement facilitated by Saudi Arabia, Sharif was exiled from the country for the next 10 years.

The Sharifs' return

In August 2007, after years in exhile, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that both Nawaz and his brother Shahbaz were free to return to Pakistan. The following month Mr Sharif returned from exile to Islamabad, but was prevented from leaving the plane and subsequently deported to Jeddah, returning instead in November to mark his return to politics.

Between 2008 and 2013, Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N party had formed a coalition government led by the PPP.

A Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari coalition is formed. — File photo.
A Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari coalition is formed. — File photo.

In August 2008, the coalition government agreed to impeach Musharraf, leading to his resignation. Later that year the coalition between PPP and PML-N collapsed over the former’s refusal to reinstate sacked judges.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif from holding public office in February 2009. After Zardari’s attempts to place Mr Sharif under house arrest, Nawaz Sharif began a “Long March” with the aim to reinstate the dismissed judges the following month.

Supporters gather at Nawaz Sharif's "Long March" on Lahore's Ferozpur road. — Creative Commons
Supporters gather at Nawaz Sharif's "Long March" on Lahore's Ferozpur road. — Creative Commons

On April 2010, the 18th Amendmnet Bill is passed, removing the limit on former prime ministers to hold office for only two terms, allowing Mr Sharif to run for office a third time.

Third and last time?

In May 2013, Nawaz Sharif was elected as prime minister of Pakistan for a third time, among claims of widespread rigging and election fraud. The Sharif government backed a Pakistan Rangers led operation in Karachi, aimed at rooting out crime and terrorism from the metoropolitan city.

Pakistan incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. — File photo.
Pakistan incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. — File photo.

After a visit by Chinese Premiere Li Keqiang in July, it was announced that China would invest $31.5 billion in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with Premiere Li Keqiang during his visit to Pakistan. — File photo
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with Premiere Li Keqiang during his visit to Pakistan. — File photo

In November 2013, PM Sharif ceremonially broke ground on a $9.59 billion nuclear power complex to be built in Karachi.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif breaking around at the site of KANUPP-2. — Photo by Online.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif breaking around at the site of KANUPP-2. — Photo by Online.

In late 2014, Mr Sharif faced mounting pressure from opposition parties regarding claims of rigging in the 2013 general elections.

Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan address supporters in Islamabad at rally against Nawaz Sharif. — Reuters
Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan address supporters in Islamabad at rally against Nawaz Sharif. — Reuters

On April 4 2016, after the leak of the Panama Papers, PM Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, was identified as the beneficial owner of two offshore companies.

In October of that year the Panama Papers case was taken up by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to investigate claims of money laundering and tax evasion by the Sharif family.

After announcing their verdict, the Supreme Court ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team, which found PM Sharif to be the chairman of Capital FZE, a Dubai-based company.

The head of the JIT Wajid Zia arrives at the Supreme Court to present the final report of the investigation of the probe. — AFP/File
The head of the JIT Wajid Zia arrives at the Supreme Court to present the final report of the investigation of the probe. — AFP/File

SC disqualifies Nawaz from holding public office

Following the findings of the JIT, the apex court bench analysed its report and reserved its ruling on the Panama Papers case. On July 28, the bench disqualified Nawaz Sharif from holding public office.

The court ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to de-notify the prime minister from his National Assembly seat to fulfill the technicalities of implementing the order.

The Supreme Court said the ECP should de-seat the PM for not disclosing his role in the Dubai-based Capital FZE company in his nomination papers, saying that this meant he was not 'honest' and 'truthful'.

The decision brought to an unceremonious end Sharif's third term in power, roughly one year before scheduled general elections which would have seen him become the first Pakistani prime minister to complete a full five-year term.

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