The rise of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto created an opposition force. The families of those who suffered from his program of nationalization adamantly opposed him and his family's political careers. One of those was Mian Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif's family were major industrialists in the Punjab province, having moved there from Kashmir at Partition. With the loss of their traditional businesses in Punjab to Bhutto's nationalization the family became more entrepreneurial seeking new businesses to replace their losses.
Mian Nawaz Sharif went into local politics in the city of Lahore to represent the business class who sought moderation in government policy. He and his constituency adhered to a right-of-center politics with moderate Islamization. He stressed the maintaining of law and order and the encouragement of economic development through moderate governmental programs.
He rose to power at the provincial level. He first became the minister of finance for Punjab and then chief minister for Punjab. Punjab is the most populous province and about two thirds of Pakistan considers themselves Punjabi. About 60 percent have Punjabi as their native language. Therefore Punjabi politicians have a substantial political power base in national politics.
The political party that Nawaz Sharif belonged to and for which he was a major leader was the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). In the elections of 1990 that came after the death of Zia ul-Haq, the PML joined in a right-of-center coalition called the Islamic Democratic Alliance (ISI). The major opposition was the left-of-center coalition headed by Benazir Bhutto called the Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDA). The principal force in the PDA was Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
In the 1990 election the IJI coalition won 105 seats in the National Assembly of the total 207 possible. Benazir Bhutto's PDA coalition won only 45. Mian Nawaz Sharif was allowed to form a government. He chose nine representatives from Punjab for his cabinet of 18. Six others came from the Sindh province.
Nawaz Sharif emphasized a program of economic development to deal with the crucial problem of unemployment. He tried to reform Pakistan's stultifying economic regulations and carry out the denationalization (privatization) of firms and industries that had be nationalized by the regimes of the Bhutto family. In addition to privatizing industries he promoted policy changes that allowed new firms to enter industries that had been previously closed to private business.
Nawaz Sharif extended Zia's program of Islamization. In 1991 the government passed the Shariat Law the required the laws of Pakistan to be consistent with the Koran and Islamic precepts. There were more fundamentalist parties which were members of his coalition that demanded such measures. Nawaz Sharif led his government to create a National Highway Authority (NHA) to physically link the country together and this NHA did carry out a billion dollar highway building program.
There were some financial scandals which took place during the regime of Nawaz Sharif. Benazir Bhutto in 1992 was organizing street demonstration to destabilize the country and force Nawaz Sharif from power. In 1993 the president of Pakistan under the power granted to him by the infamous Eighth Amendment to the Constitution dissolve the National Assembly and dismissed Nawaz Sharif's government.
About six weeks later the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that the dismissal of the National Assembly by the president of Pakistan was unconstitutional. Although Nawaz Sharif was ostensibly again prime minister he and the president both, in a political compromise, resigned their offices. In the October election Benazir Bhtto's party won enough seats in the National Assembly to allow her to become prime minister.
In February of 1997 the Pakistan Muslim League party headed by Nawaz Sharif won an overwhelming majority of the seats in the National Assembly and Sharif was made prime minister. With the legislative majority he commanded Sharif had passed a thirteenth amendment to the constitution which removed the power granted under the eighth amendment for the president to dismiss the National Assembly. Sharif also had a fourteenth amendment passed that imposed party discipline on the legislators, meaning that a party leader could any members of the Assembly who failed to vote the way they were instructed.
When India detonated several nuclear bombs in 1998, Pakistan under the direction of Nawaz Sharif detonated one about two weeks later. These detonations did not mean that either nation had the means of delivering a nuclear bomb against the other. Nevertheless Nawaz Sharif was hailed within Pakistan for having restored Pakistan's national pride and prestige. India had first achieved a nuclear explosion in 1974 and so for about 24 years Pakistan had not faced this disparity with its major rival.
Although Nawaz Sharif's action was popular within Pakistan it resulted in severe repercussions with economic sanctions were imposed upon Pakistan by other countries, particularly the United States. Nevertheless Sharif used his popularity to justify the passage of a fifteenth amendment to constitution by the National Assembly that would have permitted him, as prime minister, to assume dictatorial powers in achieving an Islamisization of the Pakistan's government. The amendment had to also be passed by the Senate of Pakistan for it to become law. Other political events intervened in this process.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan judged the thirteenth amendment to be unconstitutional and thus that the president to still have the power to dismiss the National Assembly. Other members of the Supreme Court disagreed with the Chief Justice. Supporters of Nawaz Sharif attacked the Supreme Court building. Thus a real constitutional crisis was imminent. The army chief of staff, General Jahangir Karamat, was asked to mediate the dispute. Karamat sided with Prime Minister Sharif and the President Leghari resigned.
Having defended his political power against the presidency and the Supreme Court Sharif then decided to take on the only other potential rival to his power, the military. Sharif in 1998 summarily dismissed General Jahangir Karamat as chief of staff of the army. Ostensibly the reason for the dismissal was Karamat making political statements in a public speech. The Pakistan military was displeased with the arbitrary dismissal of their leader without just cause. In the place Karamat, Sharif appointed Pervez Musharraf as army chief of staff. Sharif told Musharraf that a major factor in his selection was that Musharraf was the only one of the top army officials who had not sought the appointment. Pakistan leaders seem to always be looking for a military leader without political ambitions and to always be disappointed in their quest.
The relationship between Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf was soured by the Kargil Conflict. In 1999 India charged Pakistan with violations of the Simla Agreement for intrusions across the line separating Indian and Pakistani forces since the 1971 War over Kashmir and Jammu. Economic sanctions were imposed upon Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif was put under pressure by U.S. President William Clinton to withdraw Pakistani forces. The incident put Nawaz Sharif in the position of not having the army under his control. Perhaps at that time Nawaz Sharif decided to replace Musharraf as chief of staff of the army. But the head of the army must be deposed very carefully.
The opportunity for Nawaz Sharif to replace Musharraf came when Musharraf was flying on a commercial plane from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Karachi and thus out of touch with his military commanders. Nearing the Karachi airport the pilot of the plane found that he was being denied permission to land and ordered to leave Pakistan airspace immediately. There were 200 passengers on the plane and the attempt to land elsewhere on the limited fuel the plane contained would put the lives of those passengers at risk. When the pilot announced he was going to land the plane without permission, the air controller told him that there were three fire trucks blocking his landing. However about that time the Pakistan army gained control of the Karachi airport and cleared the plane for landing.
Musharraf found, Nawaz Sharif had announced that Musharraf had retired and another officer had been made chief of staff. Musharraf refused to accept his firing and declared martial law making himself chief administrator of Pakistan. Musharraf's takeover of the government took only about three hours. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his hand-picked President were arrested.
Nawaz Sharif was charged with the attempted hijacking of Musharraf's plane. In the year 2000 Nawaz Sharif was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Army however, at the request of Crown Prince (and now King) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, commuted the sentence to exile in Saudi Arabia. Sharif was banned from political involvement for 21 years. Later Nawaz Sharif was charged with corruption and given an additional sentence of 14 years.
In 2006 Sharif appealed to Musharraf to be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia and go to London to visit his seriously ill son. Musharraf granted his permission and Sharif went to London and did not return to Saudi Arabia. He also violated the terms of his agreement and began to engage in political commentaries concerning conditions in Pakistan. In September of 2007 Sharif attempted to return to Pakistan by air from London. He was not allowed to enter Pakistan and was sent back into exile in Saudi Arabia. At the end of November after former-prime minister Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan Sharif was allowed to enter Pakistan and engage in political activities.