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Nawaz Sharif: lowest point in political career?

A 10-year jail term handed down by an anti-graft court is perhaps the lowest point in the political career of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

He was forced to step down by the Supreme Court last year, then removed as head of his political party, before finally being banned from politics for a lifetime in 2018.

Friday’s sentencing, based on on one of three corruption charges against Sharif emanating from the 2016 Panama Papers leaks, seemed to inflict even more pain on a leader who was until recently considered the strongest man in the country.

“It will certainly hurt him personally and politically,” said Irfan Shahzad, a fellow at the Islamabad-based Institute of the Policy Studies.

It looks particularly agonizing this time because the court has also convicted his daughter and political successor, Maryam Nawaz, apparently putting an end to the dynasty Sharif sought to create.

But Sharif has experience in dealing with such crises.

He has zigzagged in and out of Pakistan’s convoluted power politics, in which the military and the judiciary are also key players.

He has been removed on three separate occasions before completing his term as prime minister, twice in the 1990s and once again last year.

Former dictator Pervez Musharraf removed him in a coup in 1999 and put him in jail.

A court under the military leader had Sharif banned for life a year later and finally he was deported to Saudi Arabia along with his family.

But every time the 68-year-old has been ousted in the past, he has come back even stronger, earning him the distinction of becoming the only leader in the South Asian nation to rule three times.

Sharif has been called a comeback king by political commentators.

He is the scion of wealthy industrialists from Lahore. His father founded Ittefaq Industries during World War II by opening a steel smelting plant.

The empire was nationalized under prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972.

Sharif ventured into politics as the protege of former military ruler Ziaul Haq, who overthrew Bhutto in 1977.

Sharif became the chief minister of Punjab, the country’s most populous and politically-significant province, in the 1980s and became the prime minister twice in the next decade.

“That was the time when he had the backing of the powerful military all the way,” recalled Hafeezullah Niazi, an analyst who observed Sharif’s rise closely.

His decision to push for constitutional reform during his second term, to curtail the influence of the army and judiciary, was seen as a main catalyst for the coup.

“That’s where problems started for him. As long as he didn’t seek control of the foreign and security policies, he was in the military’s good books,” Niazi explained.

“But the day he sought civilian supremacy the military started looking at him as an enemy.”

A deal that was allegedly brokered by the Saudis allowed Sharif to avoid jail. He returned to Pakistan in 2007, and his party came second in a general election a year later.

Since returning from Saudi Arabia, he has fought to clear his name in the courts.

Sharif came to power for a third time after his party’s landslide in 2013 elections.

Sharif’s last tenure has been full of turmoil, marked by public rallies by Khan’s supporters, intrigues by generals and finally his being disqualified by the Supreme Court in July 2017.

Sharif remains the most popular leader in Pakistan, despite the trials and back-to-back political and legal setbacks.

But only the polls will show just how damaged the comeback king is by the latest scandal, as his Pakistan Muslim League gears up for national elections on July 25.

Zia Khan, "Nawaz Sharif: lowest point in political career?," Business Recorder. 2018-07-07.
Keywords: South Asian nation , Supreme court , Corruption charges , Political commentators , Wealthy industrialists , Public rallies , Nawaz Sharif , PM , Lahore