The lower house of parliament on Monday elected Shehbaz Sharif, the three-time chief minister of the key province of Punjab, as the country’s 23rd prime minister.
Shehbaz, the younger brother of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, grabbed the top office following a successful no-confidence vote in the National Assembly against his predecessor Imran Khan, on Sunday.
The 70-year-old cancer survivor was pivotal in the opposition’s push to topple Imran Khan’s government.
Born on September 23, 1951 to a Punjabi-speaking Kashmiri family in Lahore, Shehbaz is known as a “tough administrator” who according to some analysts knows the “art to govern”.
“He is not a genius but extremely hard-working,” said Taseer Mustafa, a Lahore-based journalist who has worked as Shehbaz’s media adviser.
“He covers the gap [of not being a genius] through his hard work,” he added.
The Sharif family, which hails from the Anantnag district of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), later settled in the city of Amritsar in Indian state of Punjab in the early 20th century. They eventually migrated to Lahore in 1947 following the creation of Pakistan and India as two independent states.
The family’s sprawling residence located on the northern outskirts of Lahore is named after their ancestral village “Jati Umra” in Amritsar.
Shehbaz’s father, Mohammad Sharif, an upper-middle-class industrialist, started a steel business and set up a small factory on the outskirts of Lahore.
Shehbaz, the second of Sharif’s three sons, got his early education from Saint Anthony’s High School in Lahore and later attended the prestigious Government College University in the same city to earn a degree of bachelor of arts.
Along with his elder brother Nawaz, Shehbaz joined his family business in the early 1970s.
Their factories had been taken into state control under a controversial nationalisation policy of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1974 but were returned in 1977 following the ouster of the Bhutto government through a military coup by then Army Chief Gen Ziaul Haq.
A father of four — two sons and two daughters — Shehbaz married three times. Currently, he has two wives. All of his children are from his first wife Nusrat Shehbaz, whom he married to in 1973.
His eldest son and political heir Hamza Shahbaz is currently serving as the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly and is the candidate for the chief minister’s office amid an ongoing political crisis in the province.
The Sharif family entered politics in the early 1980s, when the country was run under martial law.
Nawaz was the first in the family to venture into politics and joined the provincial cabinet as the youngest finance minister under the patronage of then Punjab governor Gen Ghulam Jilani.
Political opponents sarcastically call the Sharifs the “product of martial law and Gen Jilani.”
Shehbaz was elected to the Punjab Assembly in 1988 and to the National Assembly in 1990. He was again elected to the Punjab Assembly in 1993 and served as the opposition leader until 1996.
He was elected as chief minister for the first time in 1997, but his government only lasted for slightly over two years as then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf toppled the Nawaz Sharif government in a bloodless military coup in October 1999.
The Sharif brothers were tried for hijacking a commercial airliner in which Nawaz was sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2000 for issuing orders, which he later rescinded, telling ground control to refuse landing permission to a Karachi-bound airliner, sending it out of the country. Among those on the plane was Gen. Musharraf, who came to power that day in a coup.
Shehbaz and two other accused were acquitted.
In 2001, the Sharif family, under an agreement brokered by former Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, went into exile in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and lived there for six years.
The family returned to Pakistan in 2007, and Shehbaz got elected as Punjab chief minister for a second term in the 2008 general elections and completed his five-year term in 2013.
In 2013, he was re-elected as chief minister for a third term and served until 2018.
In 2018, he was elected as a member of the National Assembly and served as the opposition leader until April 11 this year.
He was chosen as the president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in 2017 following the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court in the wake of the 2016 Panama Papers scandal.
As the chief minister of Punjab, he developed a reputation as an efficient administrator, particularly for his grip over bureaucracy.
“He knows how to treat the bureaucracy and how to run the government,” Salman Ghani, a Lahore-based senior political analyst, told Anadolu Agency.
Shehbaz is viewed as the pioneer of today’s Lahore, one of Pakistan’s developed cities.
He is particularly admired for the development of the communication and transportation system across the province, including in small and rural areas.
According to Ghani and Taseer, Shehbaz is the best choice for the prime minister’s office among the current lot of politicians.
“He is politically experienced and well aware of statecraft, in addition to a good track record of governance,” Ghani said.
“We don’t expect a miracle as far as the economy is concerned, but he would certainly make a difference in terms of governance, which was the weakest point of Imran Khan’s government,” he maintained.
The Sharifs have often been accused of involvement in corruption. Together with Nawaz, Shehbaz and his two sons have been facing several corruption cases.
The rise of their businesses during their stints raised eyebrows. They, however, deny the charges and term the cases “political victimisation”.
Shehbaz, who himself is facing several corruption cases and served prison time for nearly two years during the previous government, has been on bail and no charge has so far been proved against him in the courts.
The higher courts, in fact, have rebuked the anti-corruption authorities while granting bail to Shehbaz in at least two cases.
The UK’s National Crime Agency has recently cleared him in a money-laundering probe initiated at the request of the previous government.
Tilt towards China, Turkey
Sharif has called for improving ties with the US, calling them critical for Pakistan, a noticeable departure from Imran Khan’s frosty relations with Washington, which he accused of orchestrating his ouster.
According to Ghani, Shehbaz has a tilt towards Pakistan’s longtime allies China and Turkey.
“He is inspired by the Chinese struggle both on the battlefield and in the field of economy. Chinese diplomats too admire his hard work and governance,” Ghani contended.
The $64 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, was signed during Nawaz’s tenure in 2015.
He added that Shehbaz tried to follow the Turkish model in terms of the development of Punjab during his last stint.
A number of Turkish and Chinese companies are engaged in projects in Punjab which were initiated during Shehbaz’s tenure.
Several important points in Lahore have been named after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, former President Abdullah Gul and Istanbul city.
“I am witness to several personal and public conversations in which Shehbaz stated that solutions to Pakistan’s economic and strategic issues lie in regional alliances. He also stated that Turkey and China are the two countries that have always supported Pakistan on all issues, particularly the Kashmir dispute,” Ghani said.