Sharif, front-runner as Pakistan’s next prime minister, is seen by Reuters as a “can-do” administrator

©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Opposition leader Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sherif, brother of ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, gestures as he addresses the media outside the Pakistan Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan April 7, 2022. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

By Syed Raza Hassan and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Shehbaz Sharif, the person most likely to be Pakistan’s next prime minister, is little known outside his home country but has a domestic reputation as an effective administrator rather than a politician.

Three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother Shehbaz, 70, led a successful opposition motion in parliament to oust Imran Khan in a no-confidence vote early Sunday that Khan’s supporters tried for hours to block.

Analysts say that unlike Nawaz, Shehbaz maintains friendly ties with the Pakistani military, which traditionally controls foreign and defense policy in the nuclear-armed nation of 220 million.

Pakistan’s generals have intervened directly to overthrow civilian governments three times, and no prime minister has completed a full five-year term since the South Asian state gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Khan’s ouster is a chance to make a new star, Shehbaz, the joint opposition candidate set to replace Khan, told parliament shortly after the vote. “A new dawn has dawned…this alliance will rebuild Pakistan,” he said.

Part of the wealthy Sharif dynasty, Shehbaz is best known for his direct, “can-do” style of administration, demonstrated when he worked closely with China on Beijing-funded projects as chief minister of Punjab province.

He also said in an interview last week that good relations with the United States are crucial for Pakistan, for better or for worse, in stark contrast to Khan’s recent antagonistic relationship with Washington.

There are still a few procedural steps to be taken before Sharif can become Pakistan’s 23rd prime minister without involving the caretaker administrations, although the opposition has consistently identified him as their only candidate.

Assuming the role, he faces immediate challenges, not the least of which is Pakistan’s crumbling economy, which has been hit by high inflation, a falling national currency and rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

Analysts also say Sharif will not act fully independently as he has to work on a common agenda with the other opposition parties and his brother.

Nawaz has lived in London for the past two years since being released from prison where he was serving a medical treatment sentence on corruption charges.


As Prime Minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, Shehbaz Sharif planned and implemented a number of ambitious infrastructure mega-projects, including Pakistan’s first modern mass transit system in his hometown, the eastern city of Lahore.

According to local media, the outgoing Chinese Consul-General wrote to Sharif last year praising his “Punjab Speed” implementation of projects under the massive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative.

The diplomat also said Sharif and his party would be friends of China in government or in opposition.

Regarding Afghanistan, Islamabad is under international pressure to get the Taliban to honor their human rights obligations while trying to contain instability there.

Unlike Khan, who has regularly denounced India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Sharif political dynasty has been more peaceful towards the nuclear-armed neighbor with whom Pakistan has fought three wars.

In terms of his relationship with the powerful military, Sharif has long played the public ‘good cop’ to Nawaz’ ‘bad cop’ – the latter having had several public altercations with the army.

Shehbaz was born into a wealthy industrial family in Lahore and educated locally. He then joined the family business and is a co-owner of a Pakistani steel company.

He entered politics in Punjab, becoming prime minister for the first time in 1997 before being embroiled in national political upheaval and imprisoned following a military coup. He was then exiled to Saudi Arabia in 2000.

Shehbaz returned from exile in 2007 to pursue his political career back in Punjab.

He entered the national political scene when he became leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party after Nawaz was found guilty in 2017 of concealing assets related to the Panama Papers revelations.

The Sharif family and their supporters say the cases were politically motivated.

Both brothers faced numerous corruption cases in the National Accountability Bureau, including under Khan’s premiership, but Shehbaz was not found guilty of any charges. Sharif, front-runner as Pakistan’s next prime minister, is seen by Reuters as a “can-do” administrator

Chris Barrese

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