Punjab found after long hiatus a popular leader in Mian Nawaz Sharif owing a great deal to General Jilani, who served both Late Bhutto and his nemesis General Zia ul Haq as Director General ISI for good years before taking over as Governor of Punjab in the early 1980s. General Jilani picked up the unknown Nawaz Sharif out of the blue as the Finance Minister in his Council of Ministers. He was elevated as the Chief Minister of the province after the non-party elections of 1985.
He remained on the right side of the establishment when Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo was trying to corner President Zia ul Haq. He was helped to rise at the national scene from the platform of IJI in 1988 but could not make it to the premiership. He foiled the PPP’ attempt to capture his fort of Punjab by the Changa Manga strategy and took over again as the Chief Executive of the province.
He was in cahoots with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to circumvent the power of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. In the general elections held by the end of the year 1990 following the dismissal of the Benazir government in August 1990, IJI emerged victorious doing particularly well in Punjab because of the tenacious election campaign by Nawaz Sharif. Though GIK had a tilt towards Interim Prime Minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, he could not ignore the popularity of Mr. Sharif among the Punjab legislators and appointed him Prime Minister.
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He weaved his tenacity, ruthlessness and hardheaded strategy into generous monetary and material favoritism, narrow nationalism and populism allying with the ultra-rightists to divide the political spectra into a fiercely contested anti-Bhutto and pro-Bhutto camps to realize his burning ambition of premiership. His obsession for absolute power and authoritarianism in negation of democratic rule combined with his stubborn and inflexible hallmark in state affairs always took him to head-on collision with the national institutions proving every time a suicidal attack on his own regime.
Mr. Sharif could not acquiesce in the supremacy of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in the state affairs. He repeated the mistakes of his predecessor trying to exercise executive powers in matters invested in the President under the 8th Amendment that particularly included the promotion and appointment of the Chief of Army, General Asif Nawaz Janjua and later General Waheed Kakar. Within a year or so the two gentlemen stopped talking with each other. This forced the octogenarian GIK to bite the dust and revert to Benazir Bhutto to get rid of Mr. Sharif.
Mr. Sharif’s government was also mired in allegations of corruption and favoritism. The waiving of huge bank loans against the Muslim League stalwarts in Punjab, the alleged kickbacks in the big contracts such as the motorways from Lahore to Islamabad and Peshawar and the yellow cab scheme in which commercial banks lost huge funds, the sale of the Muslim Commercial Bank to the Mansha Group, the collapse of the Services Cooperative Society and Taj Company turning a vast swath of people into poppers were too serious to escape the attention of the powers that may be.
While at the end of his tether, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif clandestinely recorded his speech in Lahore in April 1992 with Pakistan Television casting aspersions on the President for dictating his terms to the elected Prime Minister. The Goliath struck within days and the government of Mr. Sharif was dismissed. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Nasim Hassan Shah restored the government. Justice Sajjad Ali Shah gave a dissenting judgment against the restoration of the government. He pleaded the Supreme Court could not reverse its previous decision as the charges against Benazir and Sharif governments were identical. The two gentlemen did not show any flexibility to establish a modicum of functional relationship to run the state affairs. This time, General Waheed Kakar stepped in and compelled both of them to resign.
Mr. Sharif, having lost the election of September 1992, proved a tenacious and ruthless opposition leader in the second term of Benazir Bhutto bowling bouncers to President Farooq Leghari and wooing him simultaneously. His task to malign Benazir Bhutto and neutralize the President was helped by corruption charges against Asif Zardari. He won the elections overwhelmingly held in March 1997 after the dismissal of the second Benazir government on 6 November 1996, and formed the federal government and provincial administrations in the Punjab, Sindh and KPK and later in Balochistan after dismissing the government of Akhtar Mengal.
His heavy mandate proved an albatross round his neck giving him a delusional sense of invincibility. He indulged in audacious attempts to subdue every national institution including the President, Judiciary and the Army. He amended the constitution reversing the executive powers to the Prime Minister and doing away with the right of elected legislators to vote according to their conscience, and made the violation of the party policy line liable for disqualification.
Having defanged the President, he turned his gaze to the Chief Justice dictating him in the elevation of superior Judges to the Supreme Court and publicly castigating him for disregarding his consent. His working relationship with the Chief Justice too came grinding to a halt. The Muslim League leaders, suspecting the Chief Justice to disqualify Mr. Sharif in the contempt of court proceedings being heard by him, spearheaded a mob attack on the Supreme Court.
The President, unable to do anything, decided to resign. Later, Mr. Sharif cleverly managed to outwit the Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah through his brother judges. A Supreme Court Bench in Balochistan ruled as unlawful the elevation of Justice Sajjad Ali Shah as Chief Justice of Pakistan according to the verdict delivered by him earlier upholding the principle of seniority. The Chief Justice had to blame no one and bow out.
His Army Chief General Jehangir Karamat had innocuously referred to ‘National Security Council’ of Turkey in a speech in Lahore incurring the wrath of Nawaz Sharif. He sought his resignation. The General beat a quick retreat without getting into a tussle. He appointed General Pervaiz Musharraf as his new Army Chief superseding the senior General Ali Quli Khan suspecting his loyalty being closely related to his estranged party stalwart Gohar Ayub Khan. He fell out with General Musharraf also following the Kargil episode.
While General Musharraf was in Sri Lanka, he replaced him with his protégé General Ziauddin Butt from the Communication Corps breaking the military tradition of taking Army Chiefs from the Infantry or the Artillery Corps. This did not go well with the Army. General Musharraf rushed back. His colleagues imposed Martial Law facilitating the safe landing of the PIA flight carrying General Musharraf and over 300 passengers which was earlier diverted to Nawabshah airport blockading Karachi Airport at the behest of Prime Minister Sharif to give time to his protégé to take charge as the Army Chief.
He was arrested and charged with hijacking the airborne PIA plane from ground and diverting the flight to another airport thereby endangering the lives of the passengers in the plane with almost empty fuel tanks. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by an anti-terrorist court headed by Justice Rehmat Jaffery. After sometime in Attock Jail, he struck a deal with General Musharraf through the Saudi Intelligence Chief and former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Rafiq Hariri and left with the entire Sharif family and their moveable assets to Saudi Arabia for a decade as stipulated in the deal.
Benazir Bhutto’s deal with Musharraf and the NRO provided him a leeway to break loose of his bondage and return to Pakistan despite protestations of the Saudis and Saad Rafiq Hariri. His PML-N returned to the National Assembly with a good number of seats and a majority in Punjab in February 2008. He chose to act as opposition in the center after initial political affinity with the PPP and form the provincial administration of Punjab.
His style of politics had not undergone a slightest change despite long years of exile. He was the same Nawaz Sharif – stubborn and inflexible with an overmastering penchant for authoritarianism. His role as the opposition leader was ruthless shredding the credibility of Mr. Zardari and his Ministers to smithereens by identifying them as thugs and thieves. He won the elections of 2013 by a comfortable majority and formed the federal government and the Punjab administration headed by the younger Sharif for the second consecutive term.
The political situation this time was absolutely different. Though the PPP was in a friendly opposition, he had to deal with an equally tenacious, determined and populist Imran Khan who had based his election campaign on rubric cause of ridding Pakistan of corruption and the corrupt dynasties. His aggressive and determined campaigning had already taken much of the wind out of the sails of Mr. Sharif forcing him to play on back foot. He relapsed in his old paranoia seeing demons in the darkness. He suspected his own chosen Chief of Army, General Raheel Sharif and his Spymasters to fueling his opponent’s campaign against him. The successor of General Raheel Sharif, General Qamar Bajwa also could not escape from his suspicion.
The Panama Leaks struck him like a Bedouin’s naked sword. He and his two sons and daughter were shown as owners of many offshore companies with costly properties in London. He committed the blunder of impeding the investigation of the Panama scandal by a Parliamentary Committee. The matter finally landed in the Supreme Court which constituted a Joint Investigation Team under a senior police officer. In the meantime, he was disqualified for holding any public office.
Following JIT findings, he was tried by Accountability Court and sentenced to 9 years in the Evenfield Reference along with his daughter and son-in-law. His party narrowly lost the elections of 2018 in the center and Punjab and was wiped out from Sindh, KPK and Balochistan. He was also sentenced to imprisonment in the second Reference. His party has directed all its resources to take him out of the prison maligning judiciary, judges and the government bringing forth newer and amusing episodes every other day with the International media coming out with new tales of Sharifs’ plunder of public money.
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