What a surprise. “Pakistan’s Next Premier an Islamist Comeback Kid,” by Sebastian Abbot for the Associated Press, May 13:
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.
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….