‘Lion of Punjab’ ducks Kashmir in maiden speech
After 14 years in oblivion, Nawaz Sharif, known as the ‘Lion of Punjab’ who has promised to restart peace process with India, is back on the throne of Pakistan for a record third term as the Prime Minister. But the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader seems to have ducked the sensitive issue of Kashmir, although he called for bipartisanship in his first speech since he took over the reins of the beleaguered country.
As Pakistan finds itself besieged by problems ranging from terrorism to severe power shortage, many see him as someone who can fix the country’s bleeding economy but is considered soft on the Taliban.
A steel tycoon cum politician, Sharif, 63, has made an astounding comeback after being toppled in a 1999 coup, jailed and exiled to spend seven years in wilderness.
Following the 11 May historic general elections, Sharif’s centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) had emerged as the single largest party falling just short of a majority.
But, he was able to muster therequired strength within days as many independents came forward to support him. Sharif had managed to swim through cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s “tsunami” as his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came third contrary to all the hype. Sharif promised to transform the country’s economy, end corruption in state-owned enterprises, build a motorway from Lahore to Karachi and launch a bullet train.
He had also stressed on talks with Taliban but his plans seems to have been hit severely after a US drone strike killed Pakistani Taliban’s deputy chief Waliur Rahman. Taliban has now threatened retaliatory attacks.
Sharif’s last term as Prime Minister ended in 1999 when then Army Chief Pervez Musharraf carried out a bloodless coup.
In a dramatic fall from grace, Sharif ended up in jail, convicted of hijacking charges for trying to stop a plane carrying Musharraf from landing.
He then went into exile in Saudi Arabia and didn’t return to Pakistan until 2007, when he teamed up with the PPP to force Musharraf from office. Incidentally, his bete-noire Musharraf, who came back from self-imposed exile to contest in the polls, is in jail following a battery of charges against him.
Only time will tell if the ‘Lion’ can indeed roar again and keep his complex country on track.