The rise and fall of Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif

Islamabad, PakistanUpdated: Dec 25, 2018, 02:37 PM IST

File photo of Nawaz Sharif. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Sharif has a history of conflict with the military even though his political career was initially nurtured by military dictator Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s.

Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was on December 24 sentenced to seven years in prison and fined $25 million on corruption charges that he says were politically motivated.

The anti-corruption court in Islamabad said in its ruling that the three-time prime minister was unable to prove the source of income that had led to his ownership of a steel mill in Saudi Arabia. Under Pakistani law, this is taken to prove corruption.

Sharif was found to have been unable to demonstrate that his family had acquired the steel mill legitimately, but was acquitted on the second charge, relating to Flagship.

Sharif, 68, had already been sentenced by the same court to 10 years in prison on charges related to the purchase of upscale apartments in London, after the Supreme Court removed him from power.

Nawaz Sharif was born into a Kashmiri family of industrialists in the eastern city of Lahore in 1949. He graduated with a law degree from Punjab University and went to work in the family steel business.

He entered politics in 1976, joining the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) after the Sharif family steel business was nationalised under the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. This was the beginning of a long political rivalry between the families.

In 1981, Sharif joined the Punjab provincial cabinet as finance minister, becoming Punjab's chief minister in 1985. The PML later split and Nawaz formed the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

He was elected prime minister for the first time in 1990 but soon fell out with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and was removed three years later after the President dissolved the National Assembly. He was reinstated by Supreme Court which termed the presidential order unconstitutional, but Sharif's party lost the 1993 elections to the Pakistan People's Party of Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfiqar Bhutto.

Sharif again became the prime minister in 1997. During his term, Pakistan successfully tested nuclear weapons in response to India's atomic programme. However, he was overthrown in a military coup by General Pervez Musharraf, the country's fourth army takeover since independence in 1947. After the coup, he was convicted of corruption and given a life sentence for hijacking over an incident when he ordered Musharraf's plane not to land in Islamabad.

Sharif remained in exile in Saudi Arabia from 2000 to 2007 amid reports of a deal with the military. He was given a presidential pardon the day his family left.

He returned from exile to contest elections in 2008 as part of a political deal that ended Musharraf's military rule but lost to Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated ahead of the polls.

Sharif's party swept back to power in 2013, and he became the prime minister for third time. But the trouble soon began after leaked Panama papers in April, 2016, showed involvement of Sharif's family in offshore companies including two used to buy luxury homes in London. Cricketer-turned-politician sensed an opportunity and threatened to paralyse the capital Islamabad with a "lockdown" of street protests in October that year unless demands for an independent investigation into the Panama revelations are met. Sharif denied any wrongdoing.

In November 2016, Pakistan's Supreme Court agreed to set up a judicial commission to probe corruption allegations against Sharif, stemming from Panama Papers leaks and in July, 2017, he was disqualified from office for not declaring income from a company in United Arab Emirates, which was not in original Panama Papers revelations. The court also ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to open a criminal trial into ownership of the London flats along with several other Panama Papers revelations.

In April, 2018, the country's Supreme Court further banned Sharif from political office for life and in July, the NAB court convicted Sharif of corruption and sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in prison. He was arrested on July 13 on returning from London where he was tending to his wife, Kulsoom, who later passed away of cancer.

Sharif has a history of conflict with the military even though his political career was initially nurtured by military dictator Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s.

He fell out with powerful generals once he ascended to power a decade later, and relations became fraught after his return as premier in 2013, partly because he challenged the military over foreign policy, which the generals traditionally considered their domain.

Sharif has argued that the military, in cahoots with top judges, has used cases against him and party members to tip the scales in favour of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan ahead of the election.

Five months ago, Sharif's PML-N lost a general election to the party of Khan, who became the new prime minister of Pakistan.