Pakistan: Who Is The Newly Appointed Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif?

Pakistan: Who Is The Newly Appointed Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif?
Image source: The Times of India

After Imran Khan was ousted from his position as Pakistan’s prime minister following a no-confidence vote, Shahbaz Sharif, the president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, was elected unopposed as the country’s new premier on Monday, April 11. Sharif remained the sole candidate after Khan loyalist Shah Mahmood Qureshi resigned and withdrew.

What Happened In The Parliament Session?

Imran Khan resigned from the National Assembly before the election. His party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), boycotted the vote and the MPs staged a walkout. “No one will suffer revenge, no one will suffer injustice, and no one will be imprisoned; the law will take its course in Pakistan,” Sharif had asserted in the National Assembly. “Justice shall triumph in Pakistan,” he added.

Pakistan’s Lower House of Parliament had gathered to choose a new prime minister on Monday afternoon. Shahbaz Sharif’s unionist movement ousted Imran Khan after he claimed that there is a Washington-sponsored plot to depose him. American officials disputed Khan’s charges while his party nominated former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to succeed him as the prime minister. Members of the party resigned en masse when Qureshi was not appointed. Elections need to be held to fill the remaining vacancies. Sharif was the sole candidate left after more than 100 members walked out. He won with 174 votes.

As a result of his election victory, Sharif stated that Pakistan is on the verge of experiencing its greatest budget and trade deficits in history. As per media reports, Khan remained defiant in the aftermath of the no-confidence vote, stating on Twitter, “The liberation battle begins afresh today against a foreign plot of regime change.” Later, he showed photos of his followers in the streets, saying they were “rejecting the imported administration run by thieves”. Thousands of people marched and blocked highways in Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar, screaming anti-US and anti-opposition party chants.

Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, no prime minister has completed a full term in office. Khan, on the other hand, became the first to be deposed by a vote of no confidence. For more than half of Pakistan’s nearly 75-year history, the military has dominated the nuclear-armed country’s politics. When Khan was elected in 2018, the military establishment backed him. With Khan’s choice of a military intelligence director and economic troubles that saw the greatest interest rate hikes in decades last week, the military’s support for him visibly faded.

Who Is Shahbaz Sharif?

During the past few weeks, Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of three-time former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, has led the charge against Imran Khan. Nawaz Sharif served as a member of the National Assembly from 1990 to 1996. After the military coup of 1999, both brothers were forced into exile in Saudi Arabia, for several years. They have also been charged with corruption.

In 2007, Shahbaz Sharif returned to Pakistan. A year after his brother was ousted from office for concealing assets relating to the Panama Papers, he was nominated for the post of the PML-N president. He was barred from holding public office by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2017. After serving only a few months of a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges, he left the country for medical treatment.

According to the National Accountability Bureau of Pakistan, Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza were accused of money laundering in 2019. The government seized almost two dozen properties from them. He was arrested in September 2020 and held for six months, after which, he was released on bail pending trial till date.

Sharif is known for his “can-do” administrative style and has friendly relations with the Pakistan military, which controls the country’s defence and foreign policies. In his three terms as chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province, he worked closely with China on Beijing-funded development projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative, and received praise from Chinese officials on several occasions, for being a man of action.

According to reports, former Chinese consul general Long Dingbin referred to Shahbaz Sharif as “an old friend of China”, while Vice-Minister Zheng Xiaosong has awarded him with the title of “Shahbaz Speed”, for completing projects ahead of schedule.

 

Read more: No-Trust Motion Against Imran Khan Rejected; Pak President Dissolves Assembly

 

Sharif’s Approach

Contrary to Khan’s anti-US stance, Sharif agreed that US ties are important for Pakistan, for better or for worse. When asked why Pakistan had to appease the US, he reportedly answered, “Beggars can’t be choosers, please understand. We have to feed our nation. We have to send our children to school, we can’t fight with someone, can’t raise slogans against others.”

He received a lot of backlash for this comment, including from embattled PM Imran Khan, who called him a “slave of America”. As Sharif takes the reins as the 23rd prime minister of Pakistan, his immediate challenge is to tackle the rising inflation in the country and the dip in its foreign exchange reserves.

He has unveiled a slew of populist initiatives, including rural development initiatives and a  new 25,000-rupee minimum salary (about €124 or $135). He also promised government personnel salary raises.

Sharif also advocated for better relations with India, while emphasising the importance of finding a solution for Kashmir, which has been the source of decades of conflict between the two nuclear powers. He has promised to address the country’s economic downturn that has seen the Pakistani rupee plummet to new lows, as well as a significant increase in interest rates.

“It’s a victory of righteousness, and evil has been defeated,” Sharif said in his maiden speech as premier, underlining the acrimonious political battle that culminated in his election. Sharif’s statements came as the US Department of State dismissed allegations of meddling in Pakistan’s domestic affairs, levelled by the deposed Imran Khan.

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