Pakistan’s Next Premier an Islamist Comeback Kid

Pakistan’s Next Premier an Islamist Comeback Kid

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT Associated Press
ISLAMABAD May 13, 2013 (AP)

The man set to become Pakistan’s next prime minister after historic elections over the weekend could be called the Islamist comeback kid.

Nawaz Sharif has held the job twice before, but the last time didn’t end so well. The 63-year-old was toppled in a coup by the country’s army chief in 1999 and sent into exile in Saudi Arabia. He spent years in the steamy Gulf before brokering his return in 2007.

After serving as the country’s main opposition leader, Sharif came roaring back in Saturday’s elections, in which his Pakistan Muslim League-N party scored a resounding victory.

Sharif’s supporters believe his pro-business background and years of experience in government make him the right person to tackle the country’s many economic woes, like growing power cuts, painful inflation and widespread unemployment. He is also a main proponent of improving ties with Pakistan’s archenemy and neighbor India, a step that would likely boost his country’s economy.

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Critics worry that Sharif, who is known to be personally very religious, is soft on Islamic extremism and won’t crack down on militants that pose a serious threat to Pakistan and other countries — chief among them the Taliban and al-Qaida-linked groups.

The United States will be watching Sharif closely, since Washington relies on help from Islamabad to fight Islamic militants in Pakistan and to negotiate an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

The son of a wealthy industrialist from central Punjab province, Sharif entered politics as a protege of Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who seized power in a military coup in 1977. Sharif was prime minister from 1990-93 and again from 1997-99.

Sharif’s second stint in power was cut short when he was toppled in a military coup and sent into exile by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who was then serving as army chief. The coup followed an attempt by Sharif to fire Musharraf by preventing his plane from landing when he returned from a trip abroad.

In an ironic twist, Musharraf is currently under house arrest in Pakistan after returning from self-imposed exile, and it will be up to Sharif’s government to decide whether to bring treason charges against the former military strongman.

Following the 1999 coup, Sharif spent seven years in exile before Musharraf grudgingly allowed him to return in November 2007, apparently under pressure from Saudi Arabia’s king, an important ally of Pakistan.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto also returned from exile around the same time to run for parliament, but she was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack at the end of 2007, before the election.

Sharif also intended to run in the 2008 election, but he was disqualified by a court because of a conviction on terrorism and hijacking charges, stemming from Musharraf’s coup. Sharif insisted the conviction was politically motivated, and it was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2009.

Sharif’s party came in second in the 2008 parliamentary election, behind Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. The two parties originally formed a government together, but after two months, Sharif’s party became the main opposition, accusing Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari, of reneging on a vow to restore judges fired by Musharraf.

Sharif put steady pressure on the government, but wary of army interference, never enough to threaten its hold on power. This attitude helped enable the national assembly to complete its five-year term and transfer power in democratic elections on Saturday for the first time since the country was founded in 1947.

Sharif draws much of his political support from the middle class in urban areas of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, because of his pro-business policies. But he has also played the populist. May of the battered yellow taxis rattling around Pakistani cities date from a microfinance plan he set up to help create jobs for the poor. He also set a minimum wage.

But he is perhaps best known for testing nuclear weapons in response to India’s nuclear test in 1998.

It was an immensely popular decision in Pakistan — millions celebrated in the streets — but one that was made in defiance of U.S. appeals for restraint. President Bill Clinton even intervened personally, reportedly offering millions of dollars in aid and a state dinner if Sharif held off.

Sharif’s party, which controlled the Punjab government for the last five years, is more closely aligned with hard-line Islamist parties than the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party. The Pakistan Muslim League-N has been criticized for not going after militant outfits in Punjab, a stance analysts said was driven by its reliance on banned militant groups to deliver key votes.

During Sharif’s tenure as prime minister in the 1990s, he not only supported the Taliban regime in Afghanistan but also tried to vastly increase the powers of his office while pushing aside Pakistan’s penal code in favor of an Islamic justice system. Many saw these ill-fated moves as an attempt to “Talibanize” Pakistan, and they eroded his popularity.

After returning from exile, Sharif admitted that the pro-Afghan Taliban policy he pursued when he was prime minister in the 1990s was a failure and said Pakistan should stop trying to influence affairs in Afghanistan. That is the same message the U.S. sent to Pakistani leaders as American troops fought the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Pakistan and the U.S. have had a tense relationship in recent years, especially following the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani army town in 2011.

Sharif has criticized unpopular U.S. drone attacks targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Pakistan, and has called the Afghan conflict “America’s war.” The Punjab government, controlled by Sharif’s party, turned down over $100 million in American aid in 2011 to protest the bin Laden raid.

Now, many analysts believe Sharif will take a pragmatic view toward relations with the U.S. and won’t want to see ties deteriorate.

His influence on the course of the relationship, as well as other foreign policy issues, will be tempered by Pakistan’s powerful army, which often plays a dominant role in national security decisions.

Many observers are watching closely to see how Sharif deals with the military in his first months as prime minister.

For example, later this year the term of Pakistan’s chief of army staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — the most powerful military officer in the country — is slated to end. The appointment of a new chief could create friction between Sharif and the army’s leadership.

Pak Elections 2013 – 3 Items MQM, PTI and Qadri

People will not accept ‘danda-bardar shariat’: Altaf

KARACHI: MQM Chief Altaf Hussain has said on Saturday that Taliban want to discourage people from participating in the election gatherings of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) but people of the country will not accept ‘danda bardar shariat’. The MQM chief was addressing a public gathering in Nawabshah via a telephone from London In a telephonic address from London, while speaking to a public gathering in Nawabshah, Hussain said that Islam is a religion of peace and it prohibits forced implementation. The MQM will form the next government in Sindh, and attacks on party offices and election gatherings are a conspiracy to keep progressive forces out of the election process. He said that a smooth election campaign could only be witnessed in Punjab. Meanwhile, the MQM’s Coordination Committee on Saturday categorically stated that the party will not boycott election despite conspiracies. In a telephonic conversation with the party chief, the Coordination committee members said that despite attacks on workers and leaders, morale of MQM workers was high and they would not surrender before terrorists. staff report\28\story_28-4-2013_pg12_5

ECP takes notice of Imran’s speech

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Saturday took notice of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s “personal attack” on the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Earlier, Imran Khan had addressed a rally in Bahawalpur, where he used words for Nawaz Sharif that the ECP found objectionable.The entire speech will be put before ECP chief Fakhruddin G Ebrahim in a meeting on Tuesday, where it will be evaluated whether the speech contained offensive remarks. On Friday, the ECP issued a notification prohibiting political parties and their candidates from launching personal attacks against their opponents.

With the election campaigns in full swing and parties holding rallies, candidates were seen criticising each other and often resorting to name-calling and rhetoric that could be construed as slander. online\28\story_28-4-2013_pg7_2

Qadri tells ‘followers’ to boycott election 

LAHORE: Minhajul Quran International (MQI) head Dr Tahirul Qadri has resumed his pseudo-politics from Canada, advising his followers-cum-voters to boycott the May 11 election for the sake of ‘saving’ the state.

Qadri, who is living in Canada nowadays, is likely to revisit Pakistan on May 5 to convince Pakistanis to stay away from the electoral process and hold sit-in protests outside all election commission offices across the country.

With this agenda, the MQI has started distributing hundred of thousands of leaflets among the masses, in which people have been urged not to take part in election, as it could not bring any change in society.

The leaflets, available with Daily Times, urge the masses to refrain from casting their votes on May 11, and participate in the MQI’s sit-ins outside the local election commission offices in their respective areas.

In the leaflets, Qadri has suggested his followers, who are already listed in the electoral rolls, to stand united against the “existing corrupt system”.

In one of the two leaflets, he has declared the upcoming election “engineered” and “rigged”, and asked the people not to vote for fake-degree holders, tax evaders and loan defaulters who had been permitted to contest elections.

The MQI started its anti-election door-to-door campaign from its headquarters in Lahore – Model Town – and its volunteers are distributing the leaflets in each and every house of the area.

When this scribe asked the locals about their views on the distribution of such pamphlets, most of them expressed less confidence in the slogans of Dr Tahirul Qadri, and said that he had left them in the middle of no-where during his last call to the people for saving the state just a few months ago.

They were also in doubt about the hidden agenda of Qadri’s appearance in the country just six days before the polling day and the slogan of boycotting the election when all political parties are admiring it as a positive step towards strengthening democracy in Pakistan.\28\story_28-4-2013_pg7_3