But just as Sharif rose due to patronage from the military, so too did he fall because of animosity with it. In October 1999, he tried to replace General
Pervez Musharraf and bring on his own choice of general for army chief. Musharraf responded by staging a coup, deposing Sharif's government, putting him
behind bars, and later sending him into exile in Saudi Arabia.
If Sharif is indeed a changed man, a good place to look for his political chrysalis is his exile years from 2000 to 2007 in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis
afforded him a luxurious lifestyle as well as the time and space to reflect on his past, while still maintaining frequent contact with his supporters in
Pakistan. Many of his close friends and party leaders had abandoned him and joined the military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, which was surely a defining
But during his exile, something unexpected happened. He grew close to his former archrival, Benazir Bhutto, another political exile from Pakistan who was
living in Dubai. Both victims of military dictatorships, they shared the experience of having tried to come back to Pakistan and participate in politics,
only to be obstructed by the Musharraf regime. Together, they went to London to sign a landmark agreement called the Charter of Democracy in May 2006, in
which both agreed to struggle against military dictatorship and cooperate in future endeavors for democracy. That was a rare experience in which they
learned to forge alliances with those they had once opposed.
Sharif's third act comes at a critical time in Pakistan's checkered history. The stakes have never been so high for the country and its nearly 190 million
people. On one hand, it's facing the rising tide of Taliban militancy, and on the other hand an anemic economy, weak governance in many parts of the
country, and a severe energy shortage. All this as the United States is starting to leave Afghanistan and the world watches nervously to see whether
Pakistan can play a positive role not only in facilitating the withdrawal (much of the equipment will be shipped out through Pakistan) but also in
long-term peace in Afghanistan.
Fortunately, Nawaz seems eager to tackle some of these pressing issues. There is hope that he can
steer the country of out of its economic and energy crisis, mainly because of some of his past mega-projects, such as highways and cab schemes.
Unfortunately, he has not yet shown any plan for tackling the Taliban insurgency, except his intention of negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban. He has
showed willingness to cooperate with the West in fighting terrorism in a recent interview but did not offer any
specific ideas of how he would do so.
Since Pakistan's military has been predominantly ethnically Punjabi, only a powerful Punjabi civilian can try to fix the civil-military imbalance. Since
most of the mandate Sharif got is from the Punjab province that makes him all the more a good choice to correct the balance. That would mean he would steer
the country's strategic polices towards India, Afghanistan, and United States, and it would also mean ending supporting proxies by the military in order to
achieve foreign policy objectives. The Punjab-dominated mandate also puts a huge responsibility on Sharif's shoulders to wisely carry the ethnically
diverse federation forward.