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Once exiled, Nawaz Sharif makes triumphant return to Pak politics

india Updated: May 12, 2013 18:44 IST
Nawaz Sharif

Nawaz Sharif, known as the 'Lion of Punjab' who has promised to restart peace process with India and is set to be elected for a third innings as Pakistan prime minister, is seen as someone who can fix the country's bleeding economy but is considered soft on the Taliban.

A steel tycoon cum politician, Sharif has made an astounding comeback after being toppled in a 1999 coup, jailed and exiled to spend seven years in wilderness.

While votes from Saturday's historic general elections were still being counted, Sharif declared victory at the headquarters of his centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).

As per Pakistani TV projections, Sharif's centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) was leading the race with over 125 seats. Read: Nawaz Sharif claims victory in Pak elections as millions vote

He managed to swim through cricketer-turned-politician

Imran Khan's "tsunami" as his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)had a projected win of only 34 seats. Read: Imran Khan's party concedes defeat in Pak polls

The 63-year-old has promised to transform the country's economy, end corruption in state-owned enterprises, build a motorway from Lahore to Karachi and launch a bullet train.

A Pakistani vendor arranges morning newspapers with front-page-coverage of former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif's success in landmark elections the day before, along a roadside stall in Islamabad. AFP

Sharif's last term as Prime Minister ended in 1999 when then Army chief Pervez Musharraf carried out a bloodless coup.

In a dramatic fall from grace, Sharif ended up in jail, convicted of hijacking charges for trying to stop a plane carrying Musharraf from landing.

He then went into exile in Saudi Arabia and didn't return to Pakistan until 2007, when he teamed up with the PPP to force Musharraf from office.

Incidentally, his bete-noire Musharraf, who came back from self-imposed exile to contest in the polls, is in jail following a battery of charges against him. Read: Khurshid hopes govt will better ties if Sharif becomes Pak PM

While Sharif has said he does not have any vendetta against him, he has made it clear that treason charges would be slapped on the former military ruler if he comes to power.

Former Prime Minister and leader of Pakistan Muslim League-N party Nawaz Sharif addresses supporters as his brother Shahbaz Sharif and others listen at the party's headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan. AP

During his campaigning, Sharif has emphasised on the need to restart the peace process with India.

"We will have to pick up the thread from where we left in 1999. That was a historic moment and I would like to tread that path...We all agreed that we will have to solve, we will solve all the problems through peaceful means, sitting across the table," Sharif had said.

"We got to bring that time back again and restart our journey from that point," he had said.

Sharif's campaign has focused a lot on the economy. Pakistan ranks 146th out of 186 countries in the United Nations' human development index, a measure of living standards, health and education. Read: MQM urges Nawaz Sharif for welfare of all in Pakistan

Under the slogan "Strong Economy -- Strong Pakistan," Sharif seems to have successfully projected his image as a flag-bearer for private industry and entrepreneurship.

Sharif had taken steps to liberalise the economy during his time in office in the 1990s.

Though his economic credentials seems to be fine, he is seen as someone who is soft on the Pakistani Taliban after his calls for talks rather than a military onslaught.

Former Prime Minister and leader of Pakistan Muslim League-N party Nawaz Sharif addresses supporters as his brother Shahbaz Sharif and others listen at the party's headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan. AP

Sharif was born in 1949 into a wealthy family of industrialists in Lahore and was educated privately at English-language schools.

He got degree in law from the University of Punjab before joining his father's steel company and eventually entering politics after his family was hit considerably following nationalising of nationalised private industry in the 1970s by then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Under the patronage of former military ruler Zia-ul Haq, Sharif became first finance minister and then chief minister of Punjab - a post he held for five years from 1985 until he was elected prime minister in 1990.

He served a three-year term until he was sacked on corruption charges and replaced by his arch-rival Benazir Bhutto.

Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister and head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N Nawaz Sharif, cheer as they listen to Sharif outside his residence after his party victory in general election in Lahore. AFP

The road ahead
But he will have to work with Pakistan's generals, who set foreign and security policy and manage the nuclear-armed country's difficult relationship with the United States as NATO troops withdraw from neighbouring Afghanistan in 2014.

Sharif also believes Pakistan should reconsider its support for the US war on Islamist militancy, which has earned the country billions of dollars in aid. Read: Omar greets Sharif, hopes peace process restarts

Despite pre-poll violence and attacks on Saturday that killed at least 17 people, millions turned out to vote.

Sharif's party may not have enough seats to rule on its own and may be forced into a coalition, which could make it difficult to push reforms needed to revive the economy.

Sharif, who advocates free-market economics, is likely to pursue privatisation and deregulation to revive flagging growth. He has said Pakistan should stand on its own two feet but may need to seek a another bailout from the International Monetary Fund to avoid a balance of payments crisis.

Sharif will have to ease widespread discontent over endemic corruption, chronic power cuts and crumbling infrastructure. He has described Pakistan as a "mess".

Former Pakistani prime minister and head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N Nawaz Sharif waves to supporters after his party victory in general election in Lahore. AFP

Bloody election day
A string of bomb blasts marred election day, with one attack on a party office in the southern city of Karachi killing 11 people and wounding about 40.

Pakistan's Taliban, who are close to al Qaeda, have killed more than 125 people in election-related violence since April. The group, which is fighting to topple the government, regards the poll as un-Islamic.

Despite Pakistan's history of coups, the army stayed out of politics during the five years of the last government and threw its support behind Saturday's election.

However, some fear the military could step back in if there were a repeat of the incompetence and corruption that frustrated many Pakistanis during the last government.

Kalsoom Nawaz, the wife of former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-N party chief Nawaz Sharif, walks out of a polling station after casting her ballot in Lahore, Pakistan. AP

Sharif, who was toppled in a 1999 bloodless coup by former army chief Pervez Musharraf, may take steps to improve ties with Pakistan's arch-enemy, India. Efforts to boost trade between the neighbours have stalled due to suspicion on both sides.

If Sharif is forced into a coalition, he may look to Islamist parties to cobble together a majority in parliament.

On top of the 272 contested seats, a further 70 - most reserved for women and members of non-Muslim minorities - are allocated to parties on the basis of their performance in the constituencies. To have a majority of the total of 342, the government would need 172 seats.