Updated March 3rd, 2024 at 17:13 IST

Who is Shehbaz Sharif? Know More About the Second Time PM of Pakistan

Shehbaz Sharif has once again donned the mantle of prime ministership of cash-strapped Pakistan by a quirk of fate and his amicable ties with the powerful establishment in the coup-prone country.

Shehbaz Sharif will be elected as Pakistan Prime Minister for the second time. | Image:AP
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Islamabad: Shehbaz Sharif, who is known to be as a good administrator and politician, has once again donned the mantle of prime ministership of cash-strapped Pakistan by a quirk of fate and his amicable ties with the powerful establishment in the coup-prone country. The 72-year-old President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the younger brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, always played the second fiddle to the 74-year-old party supremo, who returned to Pakistan in October 2023, in his bid to script history by becoming the premier for a record fourth time in 2024.

However, the outcome of the February 8 elections crushed Nawaz Sharif's dream of becoming the prime minister for the fourth time. The PML-N, which was hoping to form a government on its own, won only 75 seats, trailing behind independent candidates backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the 336-member National Assembly.

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With the election leading to a hung Parliament, the PML-N did not have much of a choice, but to form a coalition government to prevent Khan's PTI from making its bid to return to power. Nawaz had tasked Shehbaz to negotiate with other like-minded parties on the formation of a coalition government. However, the PML-N party soon realised that there was opposition to Nawaz Sharif's candidacy.

Thus, the elder Sharif was left with no choice but to nominate his younger brother as the consensus prime ministerial candidate of the PML-N and the Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari-led Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) last month. Party sources say Nawaz was not comfortable heading a coalition government and abdicated his claim for the premiership in favour of his younger brother, who seemed to have the blessings of the military.

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Shehbaz reportedly rejected several offers by the powerful establishment on different occasions to become prime minister by ditching his brother. He is known for the speedy completion of mega projects, which popularised a new local phrase of ‘Shehbaz Sharif speed’ for development schemes. During his two successive tenures as chief minister of Punjab (2008–2013 and 2013–2018), a network of underpasses, overhead bridges and mass transit systems was introduced in the most populous Punjab province and was completed in record time.

Born in September 1951 in a Punjabi-speaking Kashmiri family in Lahore, Shehbaz did his graduation from the Government College University, Lahore. His family emigrated from Anantnag in Kashmir for business and settled in the village of Jati Umra in Amritsar district, Punjab at the beginning of the 20th century before moving to Pakistan.

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Shehbaz, who looked after the sprawling family business, hit the political scene in the late 1980s when he was elected as a member of the Punjab Assembly in 1988. Shehbaz served as chief minister of Punjab from 1997 to 1999, when his brother was serving his second term as prime minister but fell out with the military.

Following General Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999 toppling the Nawaz Sharif government, Shehbaz along with the family spent eight years in exile in Saudi Arabia after striking a deal with the then-military ruler. The family returned to Pakistan in 2007. Shehbaz wore the hat of Punjab chief minister for the second term in 2008 and he won the same slot for the third time in 2013.

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After then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from holding office in 2017 in the Panama Papers case, the PML-N appointed Shehbaz as its president. Shehbaz also showed himself as an astute politician when he served as a leader of the opposition from 2018 to 2022 after the PML-N lost to Khan's PTI in the 2018 polls.

It was once again quite a tough period for the Sharifs, as the elder Sharif was convicted in two different cases of corruption, along with his daughter, and jailed. Shehbaz himself faced several cases of corruption and was kept behind bars for months.

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However, Shehbaz kept his cool and made arrangements to send his brother, who was languishing in jail, to London for medical treatment. Fighting on the legal and political fronts, he painstakingly waited for his day, which came faster than expected due to the folly of then-premier Imran Khan, who picked a fight with the powerful establishment.

Following a series of cataclysmic events, Khan was shown the door through a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April 2022. Shehbaz was then picked as a consensus candidate for the prime minister's post to lead the coalition of over a dozen political parties.

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During his stint as prime minister from April 2022 to August 2023, Shehbaz was unable to repeat his trade-mark performance, failing to undertake any mega projects, turn around the economy or address the most pressing issue of inflation. His achievement in his short tenure was clinching a bailout from the International Monetary Fund with Pakistan which was on the brink of a debt default.

In his brief 16 months of rule, he was able to wriggle out of the corruption cases and also paved the way for the safe return of his brother from London in October last year, a few months after Shehbaz’s government ended its stint. His major success was keeping an unwieldy herd of leaders of diverse parties comfortable under his wings. Most importantly, he also kept the unruly establishment in good humour by not meddling in its affairs.

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He even endorsed the umbrella of the Special Investment Facilitation Centre, a body led by the Army to initiate, design, and execute mega-investment projects to further consolidate its grip on power. Shehbaz’s ability to sit with diverse groups and create consensus among them is acknowledged even by his opponents and worked in his favour when a coalition government was on the cards due to a split mandate after polarised polls.

The Sharif brothers grew up as politicians under the same conditions, but they kept their traits. While Nawaz evolved from a pro-military leader to an idealist anti-establishment politician and a crowd-puller, Shehbaz has remained a pragmatist who, being loyal to his brother, also kept intact his links with the establishment - a reason that he has always been a preferred candidate as compared to his brother.

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Shehbaz married five times. Currently, he has two wives – Nusrat and Tehmina Durani. He has two sons and three daughters. As the new government takes shape, Shehbaz's skills as an administrator and consensus builder will be put to the test as Pakistan is going through a difficult phase.The new leader should make difficult decisions to undertake to reform the economy and administration. He should also mend ties with its neighbours for peace and stability.

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Published March 3rd, 2024 at 17:01 IST