Nawaz Sharif’s political obituary has been written at least twice before. But this time, things look rather grim for the man whose third term as prime minister of Pakistan was again cut short, this time by the Supreme Court which found him and various members of his family guilty of graft.
Sharif’s first term, which began in November 1990, was cut short by the army, which forced him to step down in July 1993. Benazir Bhutto won the elections that followed, but Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)—whose symbol is the tiger—returned to power with an even larger majority in 1997. But his uneasy relationship with the military continued, and came to a head when he lied to US President Bill Clinton in July 1999, saying his handpicked Army Chief, General Pervez Musharraf, had acted alone to initiate the Kargil intrusion in May, which had led to a fierce military pushback by India and sparked fears of a nuclear war in the subcontinent.
Pakistan was forced to withdraw from Kargil days later. Months later, Sharif was toppled by Musharraf who declared martial law. Imprisoned and facing a death sentence, he was rescued by Saudi Arabia, which offered him asylum. But he returned to Pakistan in 2007, and in the 2013 elections, his PML emerged as the single largest party, and formed a stable coalition government, though friction with the all-powerful army surfaced occasionally.
Then came the Panama Papers, which exposed how he and his family had amassed an illegal fortune, and led to the crusade against him by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Sharif tried to defend himself, but the SC ruling Friday was scathing in its indictment, as it demanded that he step down immediately. Unlike the last two terms, where he at least could blame the army for his downfall, this time it is a civilian institution that brought him down. The criminal proceedings ordered against him and his family will probably dampen his attempts at a comeback. But it would be premature to write him off just yet.