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Nawaz Sharif’s grip on Pakistan strengthens

Nawaz Sharif’s grip on Pakistan strengthens

Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif has been the dominant figure in Pakistani politics since 1990. He has served several non-consecutive stints as Prime Minister of Pakistan. In total, he has been PM for 9 years. That is longer than anyone else. He has been dogged by corruption allegations. In fairness, almost everyone in Pakistani politics has his fingers in the till.

Nawaz Sharif is not the worst in this regard. His reputation is so tarnished that he farmed out the premiership to his younger brother Shehbaz. It is widely recognized that Shehbaz is just a placeholder. He simply takes orders from his dominant sibling.

Now Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam has become Chief Minister of the Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. Maryam was not active in politics until a few years ago. She is personable, unassuming, and always perfectly turned out but is seen generally as short of the grey matter. She failed a few university courses and was less than honest about her academic record. Nawaz Sharif himself held the office of Chief Minister of the Punjab for a few years.

Being a pragmatist has served Nawaz Sharif well. He assiduously courted the religious fundamentalist vote too. But he eschews a beard, watches films that many regard as morally dubious and is certainly without a reputation for being truthful. He has applauded the Taliban but would never live by their rules. At times he has also coquetted at Uncle Sam.

Nawaz Sharif was a cheerleader for the military dictatorship under Zia ul Haq. But he posed as a champion of democracy when General Musharaff ruled the Islamic Republic from 1999 to 2008.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) used to be deadly enemies. The word deadly is not a metaphor. But Nawaz Sharif showed himself willing to bury the hatchet. He coalesced with them to keep out the upstart Tehreek e Insaaf of Imran Khan.

The PML fractured into several factions. PML Qaid e Azam was the faction that was a vehicle for the late military ruler Pervez Musharaff, and PML (Nawaz) was the faction for Nawaz Sharif.

Despite espousing compassion for the needy, Nawaz Sharif has ripped off the impecunious. Kickbacks and misallocation of public funds have meant many children do not go to school at all, many live in abject penury, and sanitation and transportation are in parlous condition. He does not live up to his name which means ‘kind honour.’

Demanding the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy shored up Nawaz Sharif’s Islamist credentials. He approved of the Hudood Ordinances and insisted on severe punishments for infringements of Sharia Law.

M. M. Nawaz Sharif has had his ups and downs. Being ousted by the military in 1999 and jailed facing a charge of attempted mass murder was a low point. Several years of exile in Saudi Arabia was not a good time for him but he forged very close ties with the Saudi royal family, a racially unusual relationship. His granddaughter even married into the Al Saud’s. For him to get his granddaughter to marry into the House of Saud demonstrates how wily a statesman he is.

Many members of Nawaz Sharif’s clan live abroad. His son is a businessman in Saudi Arabia and has no political ambitions. His niece lives an upper-middle-class life in London with her husband and three children.

Nawaz Sharif is morbidly obese and suffers serious chronic health problems. He obtained permission to leave the country despite being on bail and to seek medical treatment in the United Kingdom. He stayed there far beyond the court-mandated time for such treatment. Why was good medical care unavailable in Pakistan? It is because embezzlement by Nawaz Sharif and those of his ilk starved the healthcare system of funds. There is also the brain drain. So many Pakistani doctors seek better-paid work abroad.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may not live much longer. But his clan shall rule on. It is likely that Maryam Nawaz Sharif will hold the premiership at some point.

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