From entry to exit: The politics of Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif

Photo from February 27, 2018 shows Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif embracing his brother, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, after being elected president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).—AFP/file photo

Although his entry into politics might have been accidental and unexpected, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif’s exit from Pakistan’s political arena after his lifetime disqualification by the Supreme Court—a major setback for the PML-N leader, his party, and his family—was expected. Let’s have a closer look at Sharif’s political journey, from the beginning to the end.

Sharif’s family was apolitical and his father, the late Mian Mohammad Sharif, had initially turned down a request from General Zia ul Haq through General Jillani. He declined to join politics himself but later agreed to hand over his two sons, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shehbaz Sharif, on the condition that they would first be groomed properly.

The motive for then dictator Gen. Zia ul Haq and the military establishment was simple: to counter the Pakistan People’s Party and the politics of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They needed somebody from Punjab, as Bhutto was even more popular in Punjab than in Sindh.

One of Nawaz Sharif’s close aides once told me about his entry into politics and how his father agreed.

“Mian Sharif was a non-political businessman, but he became anti-Bhutto after his industries were nationalised along with other businesses by Bhutto. Somehow, General Jillani convinced the elder Sharif that his factories would be returned and that he could also protect his business through politics,” he stated.

Mian Sharif wanted to concentrate on his business but, because of pressure and influence from Jillani, he allowed his two sons to cooperate with Zia’s martial law authorities, he said.

Thus, the two Sharifs were launched into Pakistan’s political arena in the late 1970s, and were later politically trained. Two men who played an important role in their political growth in the 1980s and 1990s were former ISI chief General (retd) Hamid Gul and, Sharif’s close aide in those days, Hussain Haqqani, a former information secretary and later Pakistan’s ambassador to the US.

Photo from 1987 shows then prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo with Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif at Police College Sihala.

After the 1985 non-party elections, General Zia and his aides succeeded in keeping the PPP out of politics and decided to form the Pakistan Muslim League as the ‘King’s party’. In a bid to counter a rising sense of political deprivation in Sindh after Bhutto’s execution, Zia picked an unknown Sindhi politician, Mohammad Khan Junejo, as the prime minister and the head of the PML.

Junejo later even surprised Gen. Zia when, against his advice, he allowed political liberty to all parties and also announced freedom of the press. He later proved even more dangerous for Zia, when he issued the directive that all VVIPs, in civil and military bureaucracy, would use small cars. He also allowed Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan, lifting an unofficial ban on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter.

But, Junejo’s political exit arrived only after he decided to sign the Geneva Accord—with the consent of all political parties—and also ordered an investigation into the mysterious Ojhri camp fire. In one of his interviews, Gen. Hamid Gul admitted that the military leadership got angry with Junejo over the Geneva Accord and decided to sack him.

Nawaz Sharif, who after the 1985 elections was elected as chief minister of Punjab province for the first time, later backed the establishment in getting rid of Junejo, who was finally removed from premiership by General Zia on May 29, 1988 using his powers as President under Article 58-2(B) of the Constitution.

On April 10, 1986 when Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan after five years in exile, the mammoth crowd that received her scared Zia and the establishment.

“It is true that the IJI was formed to block the PPP’s two-third majority, as there was a strong apprehension that she could take revenge from those who ousted and later executed her father,” the late Hamid Gul once said in an interview with me.

The establishment knew how powerful Benazir Bhutto could be and wanted Sharif to first emerge as a strong opposition leader. Thus the IJI, an alliance of anti-PPP parties, was used to counter the People’s Party in the elections. The PPP won but failed to get two-thirds majority, while the PML-led IJI emerged as a strong opposition alliance.

The game plan succeeded as…

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