Nawaz Sharif

Pakistan Table of Contents

When Mian Nawaz Sharif became prime minister in November 1990, his political coalition, the IJI, had more than a two- thirds majority in the National Assembly. The IJI alliance, a grouping of parties whose chief components were the PML and the JI, had been formed in 1988 to oppose the PPP in the elections of that year. In the 1988 elections, the PPP emerged as the single largest group in the National Assembly, and its leader, Benazir, became prime minister. At the same time, however, Nawaz Sharif emerged as the most powerful politician outside the PPP. Just two years later, the IJI under Nawaz Sharif's leadership achieved victory at the polls, and Nawaz Sharif took over in a peaceful, constitutional transfer of power--the third prime minister since Zia's death in 1988 ushered in a return to democracy. Nawaz Sharif's ascendancy also marked a transition in the political culture of Pakistan--a power shift from the traditional feudal aristocracy to a growing class of modern entrepreneurs. This transition mirrored the socioeconomic changes that had been at work in Pakistan, moving the country gradually from a feudal to an industrial society.

Nawaz Sharif, born in Lahore in 1949, belongs to a postindependence generation of politicians. Scion of a leading industrial family, he is a practicing Muslim, an ardent capitalist, and a political moderate. A graduate of Government College Lahore, with a degree from Punjab University Law College, also in Lahore, he rose to prominence representing an urban constituency seeking its own political identity. His family, along with other major industrial families, had suffered from the nationalization of large industrial enterprises during Bhutto's regime (1971-77). Nawaz Sharif had worked to build a political constituency that would favor private industrial and commercial entrepreneurship. He served in Punjab, first as finance minister and then as chief minister, before coming to national office. As finance minister, he presented development-oriented budgets. As chief minister, he stressed welfare and development activities and the maintenance of law and order.

In his first address to the nation after taking office as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif announced his government's comprehensive national reconstruction plan and said that its implementation would ensure the successful march of Pakistan into the twenty-first century. He stressed that proper use of the country's natural resources would be made, the pace of industrialization expedited, and the best use of talented manpower identified. Under his development policy, investment would be encouraged, and restrictions on setting up new industries would be lifted.

Early assessments of Nawaz Sharif and his government noted his initiative, youthful energy, and already proven ability and popularity in his home province, the country's power base. The newspaper Dawn pointed out, however, that his Punjab connection was both an asset and a liability and that "to acquire a genuinely all-Pakistan stature, he will have to have ingenuity, and acumen, magnanimity and vision, and the strength to take bold decisions."

Nawaz Sharif's cabinet initially included eighteen ministers: nine from Punjab, two from the Islamabad Capital Territory, six from Sindh, and one from Balochistan. His cabinet was later expanded to include representation from the North-West Frontier Province. Of paramount importance to the new government was implementation of Nawaz Sharif's program for strengthening the economy. Goals of the program included self-reliance, deregulation and denationalization, taxation reform, foreign- exchange and payment reform, administrative and law reform, and increases in agricultural productivity and exports. The government's economic strategy rested on streamlining the institutional framework for industrialization and on starting a new partnership with the private sector in order to promote common objectives. Nawaz Sharif regarded unemployment as Pakistan's major problem and believed it could be solved only by rapid industrialization. He said his government was considering special incentives for rural industrialization and agro-based industries and was fully committed to a policy of deregulation.

The IJI government was third in a line representing a dyarchical arrangement of shared power between Pakistan's civil- military and political forces. Nawaz Sharif and his predecessors, Junejo and Benazir, came to power under a constitutional framework in which, under the controversial Eighth Amendment introduced by Zia, the president was empowered to dissolve the parliament and dismiss the government. Both Junejo and Benazir had earlier been unceremoniously dismissed from office, and the constitutional framework limited Nawaz Sharif's ability to govern despite the support of a majority in the parliament. He, too, would be dismissed under the constitutional framework in 1993.

President Ishaq Khan had been credited with guiding Pakistan back to democracy after eleven years of autocracy and martial law under Zia. After Zia's death, Ishaq Khan, then chairman of the Senate, was next in the line of succession as stipulated in the constitution. The armed forces requested him to assume the presidency. As acting president, Ishaq Khan instituted an emergency council, and he and the council decided that general elections would be held in November 1988 and that political parties would be allowed to participate in them. When the PPP won these elections, Ishaq Khan called on Benazir to form a government, and she was sworn in as prime minister. Ishaq Khan was elected president by a combined sitting of the national and provincial assemblies, receiving 78 percent of the electoral votes. When Ishaq Khan dismissed Benazir and her government in 1990, he again called a general election. As a result, Nawaz Sharif was brought to power in 1990.

Pakistan's emerging two-party system was strengthened by the 1988 and 1990 elections and the constitutional transfer of power in 1990 from Benazir to Nawaz Sharif. In these elections, the two political alliances, the IJI and the PDA (headed by the PPP), became the main contenders for power. Although both alliances agreed on Pakistan's need for a liberal democracy and a market economy, the PDA opposition represented a real political challenge to the government, and Benazir conducted a relentless campaign to oust Nawaz Sharif.

From the outset, the Nawaz Sharif government's record was mixed. On the one hand, it achieved passage in May 1991 of the Shariat Bill, which declared the Quran and the sunna to be the law of the land. Islamic fundamentalists, on the other hand, did not think the bill went far enough. The more secular-minded Pakistanis feared that a theocracy was being established. A working group was set up to monitor and make recommendations for enforcing Islamic laws in the country. The working group adopted a nineteen-point plan that included calls for the implementation of all Islamic legislation, especially the laws creating sharia courts; transformation of the education system to reflect Islamic teaching; controls on the print and electronic media designed to ensure Islamic moral values; uniform and enforced prayer schedules; and the establishment of an Islamic banking system and the total abolition of interest.

Additionally, in November 1991 the Federal Shariat Court, Pakistan's supreme religious court, declared the provisions of some twenty federal and provincial laws repugnant to Islam. A particular problem was the ruling that payment of interest (riba) was prohibited by Islam even if the loan involved was for productive purposes. Although the government had publicly committed itself to Islamization, its major domestic policy initiative was the liberalization of the economy. If the ruling on riba were fully implemented, this new economic policy likely would fail. With no consensus in Pakistan regarding either the content or the pace of Islamic reform, Nawaz Sharif sought to strike an acceptable balance to enable his government to remain in power.

The government also had to contend with rampant crime and terrorism, which continued to be a cause for alarm in the country, particularly in Sindh. Kidnappings, bombings, and murders persisted despite concerted efforts by the police and the military to stem lawlessness. Pakistanis called this state of affairs the Kalashnikov culture because the flood of available automatic weapons gave long-standing ethnic and political rivalries a deadly new significance. The arms were largely a legacy from the war in neighboring Afghanistan. The police were increasingly outgunned, and even foreigners were not immune from attack. In the summer of 1991, the prime minister was forced to cancel an important trip to Japan in quest of investment in order to calm a population shaken by a particularly savage string of murders in Punjab. In an effort to stem the violence, the government decreed that Pakistanis turn in their weapons, but, predictably, few of them did. The government also passed the Twelfth Amendment to the constitution, which provided for the further jurisdictional authority of Speedy Trial Courts to dispense summary justice. The opposition, however, criticized the law as suppressing fundamental rights.

Nawaz Sharif held to his conviction that the solution to Pakistan's political problems was free-market reform and economic growth, so he liberalized foreign-exchange regulations and denationalized public-sector industrial enterprises and financial institutions. Furthermore, government approval was no longer required for the establishment of new industrial enterprises (with some exceptions, particularly in relation to arms and explosives). A number of important industries such as electricity generation, shipping, airlines, highway construction, and telecommunications were opened up to the private sector. Although there was support for liberalizing and privatizing the economy, there was considerable criticism of the process of implementation. Some critics feared that moving too fast could produce turmoil, with the resultant demand for renationalization. Other critics asked for protection for the more vulnerable groups in society who would not be able to compete in a free market. The government's ability to focus effectively on and deal with these problems was weakened by its involvement with the Pakistan Cooperative Societies and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) financial scandals.

In keeping with his goals of consolidating economic growth and overcoming the country's regional divisions, Nawaz Sharif was convinced of the need for a modern national infrastructure, regardless of cost. As a result, he launched the construction of a US$1 billion superhighway project, which National Highway Authority chairman Hidayat Niazi described as a step toward building a nation.

Nawaz Sharif's government continued to be under pressure from within and without, and his ruling coalition, the IJI, was plagued by internal dissention. Tensions, disagreements, and political rivalries were present within the IJI's largest component, the Pakistan Muslim League. In May 1992, the fundamentalist JI, the second largest member of the coalition, formally left the IJI. Since its inception, the IJI had been an alliance of varied right-of-center and Islamic parties in a marriage of convenience to oppose the PPP. However, the PML and the JI had long been antagonists, and their disagreements mounted over a number of issues. The JI was unhappy with the IJI government's support of Saudi Arabia and the United States during the Persian Gulf crisis (1990-91), fearing that the defeat of Iraq would transform Shia Iran into a major regional power. The JI also criticized the mainstream PML for what it perceived to be foot-dragging on Islamization, including the matter of riba, as well as its abandonment of support for the Afghan mujahidin in favor of efforts to establish a neutral, United Nations-sponsored government in Kabul. The JI also criticized the government's policy on Kashmir as not evidencing sufficient commitment to Islamic "freedom fighters" there.

The government's chief opposition, Benazir and the PPP, criticized Nawaz Sharif's efforts at privatization, calling them the "loot and plunder" of Pakistan and saying his plan favored large investors and ran roughshod over labor. Benazir was also critical of the government's Islamization policies and continued to allege that the 1990 elections, which brought Nawaz Sharif's government to power, were fraudulent. In late 1992, she tried to organize widespread protest marches against the government. In response, Nawaz Sharif banned Benazir from two of the country's largest cities and ordered police measures against her supporters.

Benazir ultimately did not muster enough demonstrators throughout the country to threaten the government. However, Nawaz Sharif's actions, in the eyes of some, made him appear too willing to espouse repressive measures rather than adhere to democratic principles. Subsequently, relations between Nawaz Sharif and Benazir appeared to soften somewhat. He reportedly ceased calling her an "enemy of Pakistan," and Benazir abandoned her demonstrations designed to topple Nawaz Sharif's government through street power.

The ruling coalition appeared to weaken by early 1993. The four major powers in Pakistan continued to be the president, the military, Nawaz Sharif's IJI government, and the PPP opposition led by Benazir. Reports of a growing rift between Nawaz Sharif and Ishaq Khan became more commonplace. The military--which never had an overt constitutional role in the government but which had historically been a key player in the formation and dismissal of governments--was closely and nervously monitored by observers.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress