No revenge mission for Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif in return to politics, say analysts

Many hope three-time leader can revive country’s economy

Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif, with his daughter Maryam Nawaz, waves to supporters in Lahore. EPA
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The return to Pakistani politics of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif will be marked by compromise, not revenge, analysts say.

Mr Sharif ended a four-year exile spent in London when returned to the country in mid-October, ahead of the proposed parliamentary elections in January.

A fourth term is considered a foregone conclusion, with many saying his return is the result of a deal with the powerful military.

Many in Pakistan are pinning their hopes on Mr Sharif for the revival of country’s economy.

His career has been marred by clashes with the military establishment, leading to his removal in 1993 and a period of exile.

A series of political battles in the 2000s culminated in his disqualification and subsequent exile in 2019.

After being removed from power for the third time, imprisoned on corruption allegations and banned from public office for life, Mr Sharif was exiled to his London residence and his career appeared in ruins.

He made his way back to Pakistan and addressed a huge gathering upon arrival in Lahore on October 21, when, rather than hurling threats at political opponents, he spoke in a non-confrontational manner and declared he would not take revenge on anyone.

He is not expected not to chase revenge if and when he forms a government, political analyst Sarfraz Khan told The National.

"Exiles and other such events also happen to political leaders and it is part of the game,” said Mr Khan, a former director of the Area Study Centre at Peshawar University.

“Former premier Benazir Bhutto’s father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and her brothers were killed, but she continued her politics. She also lost her life later on, but her family [remains] engaged in politics.

“Generally, Nawaz Sharif represents the industrialist and business community, who wish peaceful relations with neighbouring countries such as India and Iran, and this will hopefully improve trade and economy of Pakistan.”

Mr Sharif remains a prominent figure in Pakistan’s political landscape after a tumultuous journey marked by success and setbacks.

Born in Lahore on December 25, 1949, he entered politics after the death of his father Muhammad Sharif in the late 1970s.

His early foray into the political arena occurred during the military rule of General Zia-ul-Haq, when he joined the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), a party that would become synonymous with his name.

His ascent was swift, becoming the chief minister of Punjab in 1985. However, it was in the early 1990s that he attained national prominence when he was elected as Pakistan’s prime minister, not once, but thrice – in 1990, 1997 and 2013.

His leadership during these terms was marked by economic growth.

As Mr Sharif plans his return to the top of Pakistani politics, both military chiefs and politicians realise global trade and peaceful coexistence hold the key to development and progress, with the days of warmongering long gone, Mr Khan said.

“Both the establishment and Nawaz Sharif have no option but to patch things up," he said. "The establishment can no longer support Imran Khan while Nawaz Sharif can no longer afford exile.”

Sharif 'will easily form government'

Pakistan People’s Party leader and two-time minister Amjad Khan Afridi told The National that the establishment wants to bring Nawaz Sharif to power.

“The way the court cases against Nawaz Sharif are being annulled shows that it may be difficult for other parties to have a level playing field in coming elections and Mr Sharif will easily form government,” he added.

He suggested Mr Sharif concentrated on Punjab province in the past, but he should also focus on the development of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Imdad Hussain, a former provincial minister and PML-N leader in Lahore, said Punjab was a stronghold of PPP before the emergence of PML-N. Then Mr Sharif made it a stronghold of PML-N.

“In the 1990s, the PML-N was formed and I myself have been associated with it since 1997. As for my understanding, Nawaz Sharif is a business-savvy and educated politician and can improve economy,” Mr Hussain added.

“Now the party is starting political activities for the upcoming elections. Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz are likely to address separate rallies in various areas of the country, starting from Punjab.”

Analyst Prof Mohammed Taieb, head of the Social Anthropology Department at University of Peshawar, said that in Pakistan, there has always been a struggle for power between the security establishment and political leaders.

“I get confused sometimes about the dispute between politicians and the establishment. Both declare they want the welfare of Pakistan. What is then the dispute between them when both sides have the same goal of serving the country?” Mr Taieb said.

“However, the dispute arises when one side thinks they should have more decision-making power regarding significant issues.”

He called for fair elections and said any form of dishonest tactics could lead to instability in the shape of protests.

PTI central leader and former federal minister Ali Amin Gandapur said his party's activists were being victimised.

“Imran Khan and other party leaders have been arrested. Our party leaders have to be underground. Also, those who quit PTI are absolved of cases and those who remain loyal to PTI are behind bars,” Mr Gandapur added.

“Nawaz Sharif has arrived under a deal with the establishment and he is likely to form next government.”

He said a government formed by Nawaz Sharif would be less stable.

“People saw the inflation rate that skyrocketed in the PDM government led by Nawaz’s party. [That] will be the case if Mr Sharif forms the next government,” he added.

Updated: November 15, 2023, 11:21 AM