by Abdul Majeed
Chinese philosopher Confucius said, ‘Study the Past if you want to define the future’. Mian Nawaz Sharif has come full circle in his political career, starting from the post of Provincial Finance Minister to the Prime Minister of the country for an unprecedented third term. During a span of almost thirty years, Mr. Sharif has seen frequent crests and troughs in the political arena. One can only hope that he has finally learnt his lesson and will build upon the mistakes committed previously under his watch.
A brief look at Mr. Sharif’s career is necessary to reach at any prediction about the future of his government. He was appointed as Finance Minister of Punjab by Gen Ghulam Jillani in 1981. He participated in the Non-Party Based General Elections in 1985 and after victory, was appointed the Chief Minister of Punjab. After the demise of General Zia in 1988, fresh elections were held, on a party-basis. Mr.Sharif was part of a right-wing alliance of parties, allegedly cobbled together by efforts of General Hameed Gul named Islami Jamhoori Ittehad(IJI), headed by Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi. Pakistan Peoples Party swept the national elections but IJI was able to form provincial governments in Punjab and Balochistan.
The Centre-Provice dyarchy was a big challenge for Pakistan Peoples Party and its leader, Benazir Bhutto. An effort to bring a vote of no-confidence in Punjab Assembly against Mr.Sharif was thwarted when Mr.Sharif sent a number of Independent members and some members of his own party to Changa Manga, a popular picnic resort. During Benazir’s first term, nefarious attempts were made by the Federal government to harm the bussiness interests of the Sharif Family. The Benazir Government was dismissed by the President on account of nepotism, widespread corruption and deteriorating law and order situation and elections were held once again, in 1990.
Islami Jamhoori Ittehad(IJI) swept the polls and formed Government at the Centre and in provinces.
Before the elections, money was distributed to the IJI politicians by Intelligence operatives, a fact that has been disclosed during the Mehran Bank Scandal hearings by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. In his first stint as the Prime Minister of Paskistan, Mr. Sharif’s focus remained on Privatization schemes to open up the country’s economy. It was during that tenure that the demise of Co-operative Finance Corporations caused innumerable financial losses to many ordinary people. During the last 18 months of the government, around five billion rupees were lost due to government’s policies.
Mr.Sharif’s government was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on similar charges of nepotism, corruption and finanical irregularities. Mr.Sharif sought the help of Supreme Court, which decided to restore the government. However, tussle between Prime Minister and President was untenable, so both of them resigned and fresh elections were sought in 1993.
A repeat of 1988 elections happened and PPP returned to power at the Federal Level, with its allies forming government in Punjab. Mr. Sharif was the oppostion leader between 1993 uptil 1996. In November, 1996, Benazir Bhutto’s second government was dismissed by President Farooq Leghari and in the elections that followed, Mr.Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz gained significant majority in National and Provincial Assemblies. The second coming of Mr.Sharif was marked by authoritairan actions by his government. He attempted to neuter the powers of Presidency,Judiciary and then the Military by hook or crook. One such misadventure- decision to sack the Chief of Army Staff while he was away from the country-undid Mr.Sharif’s second government. He spent a few months in some of the toughest prisons in Pakistan before he flew with his family to Jeddah, as part of a deal with the Musharraf Government.
A cursory glance at the domestic policies adopted by the two Sharif-led Governments in the 90s point to certain tendencies.
Mr. Sharif was never a big fan of press freedom. During his first term, he tried to charge the Editor of ‘The News’ for treason. During his second stint, Mr.Najam Sethi, Editor of another news outlet was thrown in Jail and an attempt to ‘Court Marshal’ him was made. Mr. Sharif’s government have been fond of mega projects, a tendency shared by his younger brother. His governments used to be at the wrong end of civil-military relations, which ended his government twice.
He tends to have an increased policy focus on economy and his two terms ushered in many Conservative legislations including the Bill which amended the Blashpemy Law and proscribed a punishment for negating the so called Ideology of Pakistan.
The Charter of Democracy signed by Mr.Sharif along with his arch-nemesis Benazir Bhutto was a historic step and it signified maturity in Pakistan’s political leaders. Mr. Sharif has stuck to the right cords since his return from exile five years ago. It is hoped that the bitter lessons he learned in the wake of 12 October 1999 have brought a humbleness in his politics. He and his party should realise that this could be their last roll of the dice and they have to make it count.