PAKISTAN’S new prime minister Shehbaz Sharif is a ‘hard-core realist’ and has over the years earned the reputation as a matter-of-fact person.
Shehbaz, the younger brother of three-time prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif, has served as the chief minister of the country’s most populous and politically crucial Punjab province thrice.
Former president and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chair Asif Ali Zardari proposed Shehbaz’s name for the prime ministerial position to replace Imran Khan who was voted out in a no-confidence motion.
Born in September 1951 in a Punjabi-speaking Kashmiri family in Lahore, Shehbaz entered politics along with his elder brother Nawaz in the mid-1980s. He was elected as a member of the Punjab Assembly in 1988 when Nawaz became chief minister of Punjab.
Shehbaz first became the chief minister of Punjab in 1997 when his brother was prime minister at the Centre.
Following General Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999 toppling the Nawaz Sharif government, Shehbaz along with his family spent eight years in exile in Saudi Arabia before returning to Pakistan in 2007. He wore the hat of Punjab chief minister for the second term in 2008 and he grabbed the same slot for the third time in 2013.
Shehbaz has claimed that Gen Musharraf had offered him prime ministership provided he abandoned his elder brother which he said he had refused straight away.
After Nawaz was disqualified from holding office in 2017 in the Panama Papers case, the PML-N appointed Shehbaz as the PML-N president. After the 2018 elections, he became the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.
In September 2020, Shehbaz was arrested by the anti-corruption body National Accountability Bureau on the charges of money laundering and income beyond means case initiated by the Imran Khan government against him.
Shehbaz denied the charges and termed them as ‘political victimisation’. He remained in jail for several months before he got bail.
Currently, he is facing a PKR 14 billion (£59 million) money laundering case in the UK brought against him by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). He is also on bail in this case.
Nawaz’s daughter and PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz, who is Shehbaz’s niece, has said that her uncle is a man who has served the nation selflessly and tirelessly.
“A man who set an example of unflinching loyalty to his brother despite the worst personal and political victimisation. A man who is, has been and always will be a second father to me,” Maryam says of her uncle.
Although it is said that Nawaz wants his daughter to become the prime minister, she is convicted in the Avenfield corruption case. So the elder Sharif had no choice but to nominate the younger Sharif for the top executive post.
When Nawaz was deposed by the apex court in 2017, he preferred his party leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to his younger brother for the remaining 10-month term of the prime minister.
Shehbaz enjoys cordial relations with the powerful army, which has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 75 years of existence and has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy, according to experts.
Shehbaz’s father Muhammad Sharif was an industrialist who emigrated from Anantnag in Kashmir for business and settled in the village of Jati Umra in Amritsar district, Punjab, at the beginning of the 20th century. His mother’s family came from Pulwama.
After the partition of India, the Sharif family migrated from Amritsar to Lahore where they named their residence ‘Jati Umra’ (on the outskirts of Lahore).
Shehbaz did his graduation from the Government College University, Lahore.
He married five times. Currently, he has two wives – Nusrat and Tehmina Durani – while he divorced the three others – Alia Hani, Nilofar Khosa and Kulsoom Hai. He has two sons and three daughters from Nusrat and one daughter from Alia.
His elder son Hamza Shehbaz is the leader of the opposition in the Punjab assembly. Hamza is also contesting the chief ministerial election against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf coalition candidate Parvez Elahi.
His younger son Suleman Shehbaz looks after the Shehbaz family business. He has been absconding in the United Kingdom for the last few years in a money laundering and income beyond means case.