Why is Maryam Nawaz politically active

Dinosaur comeback in Pakistan

Nawaz Sharif has been involved in Pakistani politics for decades. As Prime Minister he was unpopular because of his hunger for power and his corruption. Now he presents himself as a refined statesman and wants to do everything better.

With Nawaz Sharif, a politician who has been involved in political business for over thirty years and who has experienced many ups and downs in his career, won the parliamentary elections in Pakistan. Born in Lahore in 1949 as the son of an industrialist, the lawyer began his political career in the early 1980s as the protégé of Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. During his military regime, the young Sharif served first as finance minister, then as chief minister of the Punjab province.

Nuclear test and Sharia law

After Zia ul-Haq's death, the social democratic Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif's conservative Muslim League alternately won parliamentary elections, and the shirt-sleeved Punjabi served twice as prime minister (1990–93 and 1997–99). The business-friendly head of government privatized state-owned companies and made a name for himself with large infrastructure projects. At the same time, the father of three was conservative on socio-political issues and was close to the religious right. He strengthened the influence of Sharia law and defended laws that discriminated against women and religious minorities.

Sharif gained great popularity in 1998 when he carried out Pakistan's first nuclear test (after India had done the same shortly before). By then, Nawaz Sharif was already one of the richest men in the country, and allegations of nepotism grew louder. Like the PPP - which has been led by the Bhutto clan for decades - the Muslim League also developed into a dynastic party. His brother Shahbaz has been in control of the Punjab as chief minister for years. His nephew Hamza is traded as his successor, and his daughter Maryam is also politically active.

Sharif's second term in office was not only overshadowed by allegations of corruption, but also by controversial constitutional amendments. To cement his power, the head of government tried to undermine parliament and the judiciary. When Pervez Musharraf overthrew him in October 1999, a majority of Pakistanis welcomed the coup. Sharif ended up in prison and later in exile in Saudi Arabia.

At the end of 2007, Nawaz Sharif and his competitor Benazir Bhutto were able to return home to take part in the parliamentary elections. Bhutto was killed in a suicide bombing and her party won the elections thanks to a wave of sympathy. Pakistani frustration at the poor performance of the PPP under Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, has clearly contributed to Sharif's resurrection. Many Pakistanis seem to see the old fighters as bearers of hope again today. «People are quick to forget. Nobody remembers what a bad prime minister he was, ”says political scientist Hasan Askari Rizvi.

The historian Ayesha Jalal is less critical of Sharif's new start. In exile he matured and became a statesman, she believes. In the past, the PPP and the Muslim League would have done anything to overthrow each other with the help of the military. In the last legislative period, however, Sharif, as leader of the opposition, behaved in an exemplary manner and thereby strengthened the democratic structures. Thanks to Sharif, one elected government will be replaced by another for the first time in Pakistan's history.

For dialogue with the Taliban

The 63-year-old actually likes to pretend to be a champion of democracy and has revised his attitude towards the army. During the election campaign, he vowed to prevent the security forces from interfering in politics. Like his predecessors, however, he too will have to accept that the military determines foreign and security policy. It could help him that his ideas in this area do not differ greatly from those of the army. Sharif has spoken out clearly against military operations in the northwest and wants to solve the terror problem through talks with the Pakistani Taliban.

However, the extremists who live in the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan are hardly ready for peace. You spared the religious-conservative Sharif in the election campaign. As soon as its Muslim League rules, however, it will also be targeted. "Sharif has miscalculated when he thinks he can get rid of the problem so easily," says journalist Ahmed Rashid. "The goal of the Taliban is the overthrow of the government and an Islamic state."

The future prime minister could be more successful in the field of economics. As a major industrialist, he knows where the shoe pinches. Without foreign aid, however, he will achieve little with empty state coffers. Sharif will therefore hardly be able to implement the threat of terminating cooperation with the USA in the fight against terrorism. The political dinosaur will benefit on its third attempt from the fact that it can count on solid support in parliament.

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