Muhammad Nawaz Sharif became the prime minister for the first time in November 1990 when his political coalition, the IJI, won more than a two- thirds majority in the National Assembly. The IJI alliance, a conglomeration of mostly politico-religious parties whose chief components were the PML and the Jamaat-i-Islami, was formed in 1988 to oppose the PPP in the elections that year. In the 1988 elections, the PPP emerged as the single largest group in the National Assembly and its leader, Benazir, became prime minister. At the same time, however, Nawaz Sharif emerged as the most powerful politician outside the PPP. Just two years later, the IJI under Nawaz Sharif’s leadership achieved victory at the polls and Nawaz Sharif took over in a peaceful, constitutional transfer of power–the third prime minister since Zia’s death in 1988 ushered in a return to democracy. Nawaz Sharif’s ascendancy also marked a transition in the political culture of Pakistan–a power shift from the traditional feudal aristocracy to a growing class of modern entrepreneurs. This transition mirrored the socioeconomic changes that had been at work in Pakistan, moving the country gradually from a feudal to an industrial society. Earlier, as Punjab’s chief minister, Nawaz Sharif initiated welfare and development activities and focused on the maintenance of law and order.
In his first address to the nation after taking office as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif announced his government’s comprehensive national reconstruction plan and said that its implementation would ensure the successful march of Pakistan into the twenty-first century. He said that proper use of the country’s natural resources would be made, the pace of industrialization expedited and the best use of talented manpower made. Under his development policy, investment would be encouraged and restrictions on setting up new industries would be lifted.
Early assessments of Nawaz Sharif and his government noted his initiative, youthful energy, and already proven ability and popularity in his home province, the country’s power base. Newspaper Dawn pointed out, however, that his Punjab connection was both an asset and a liability and that “to acquire a genuinely all-Pakistan stature, he will have to have ingenuity, acumen, magnanimity, vision and the political will to take bold decisions.”
The goals of the Sharif government’s programme included self-reliance, deregulation and denationalization, taxation reform, foreign exchange and payment reform, administrative and law reform and increases in agricultural productivity and exports. The government’s economic strategy rested on streamlining the institutional framework for industrialization and on starting a new partnership with the private sector in order to promote common objectives. Nawaz Sharif regarded unemployment as Pakistan’s major problem and believed it could be solved only by rapid industrialization. He said his government was considering special incentives for rural industrialization and agro-based industries and was fully committed to a policy of deregulation.
From the outset, the Nawaz Sharif government’s record was mixed. On the one hand, it achieved passage in May 1991 of the Shariat Bill, which declared the Quran and the Hadith to be law of the law of the land. But, on the other hand, secular-minded Pakistanis feared that a theocracy was being established. A working group was set up to monitor and make recommendations for enforcing Islamic laws in the country. The working group adopted a nineteen-point plan that included calls for the implementation of all Islamic legislation, especially the laws creating sharia courts; transformation of the education system to reflect Islamic teaching; controls on the print and electronic media designed to ensure Islamic moral values; uniform and enforced prayer schedules; and the establishment of an Islamic banking system and the total abolition of interest.
In November 1991 the Federal Shariat Court, Pakistan’s supreme religious court, declared the provisions of some twenty federal and provincial laws repugnant to Islam. A particular problem was the ruling that payment of interest (riba) was prohibited. The Nawaz Sharif government overcame some of the bottlenecks created in carrying out its agenda by a domestic policy initiative of liberalization of the economy. With no broad consensus in Pakistan on Islamic reform, Nawaz Sharif sought to strike an acceptable balance to satify most segments of society enabling his government to carry out the economic agenda.
The government also had to contend with rampant crime and terrorism, which continued to be a cause for alarm in the country, particularly in Sindh. Kidnapping, bombing and killing persisted despite concerted efforts by police and the military authorities to curb lawlessness. Pakistanis called this state of affairs as the Kalashnikov culture because the flood of available automatic weapons gave long-standing ethnic and political rivalries a deadly new significance .These arms were largely a legacy of the war in neighboring Afghanistan. The police were increasingly outgunned and even foreigners were not immune from attack. In the summer of 1991, the prime minister, in an effort to stem violence, got the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution passed to enhance the jurisdictional authority of Speedy Trial Courts to dispense summary justice.
Nawaz Sharif held to his conviction that the solution to Pakistan’s political problems was free-market reform and economic growth; so he liberalized foreign-exchange regulations and denationalized several public-sector industrial enterprises and financial institutions. The new law on the pragmatic economic approach provided that the government approval was no longer required for the establishment of new industries (with some exceptions, particularly in relation to arms and explosives). A number of important industries in sectors like electricity generation, shipping, airlines, highway construction and telecommunications were opened up to the private sector. Although there was substabtial support for liberalizing and privatizing the economy, there also was considerable criticism that took the toll of the decision to be wholesomely implemented. The controversy engulfing the Pakistan Cooperative Societies and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) financial scandal proved to be major factors for slowing down the economic reform.
However, undeterred by all odds, the PML-N government kept the goal of consolidating economic growth and overcoming the country’s regional divisions aloft and went all out to raise the level of the country’s communication infrastructure on a par with any network in the most advanced countries; Nawaz Sharif was himself fully convinced of the need for a modern national infrastructure regardless of cost. As a result, he launched the construction of a US$1 billion superhighway (Motorway) project under the National Highway Authority as an initiative that promised a major a step to building a nation .
One important development took place before the Nawaz Sharif government was sent packing. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif silently reached an understanding that they would not go to destablise the other. One striking example, often quoted about this understanding relations between the two softened. Nawaz Sharif ceased calling her an “enemy of Pakistan,” and Benazir abandoned her plan of demonstrations designed to topple Nawaz Sharif’s government through street power. Still the National Assembly was dissolved by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993 when there were four major powers in Pakistan – President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the military, Nawaz Sharif’s IJI government, and the PPP opposition led by Benazir. Reports of a growing rift between Nawaz Sharif and Ishaq Khan became more commonplace. The military–which never had an overt constitutional role in the government but which had historically been a key player in the formation and dismissal of governments–was closely and nervously monitored by observers. The Nawaz Sharif government was dismissed by the president in April 1993. He was reinstated by the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Syed Nasim Hasan Shah, but Nawaz Sharif had to resign along with the President in July 1993 covertly with the interference of the armed forces.
During his tenure as prime minister, efforts were made to strengthen the industries with the help of private sector. Projects like Ghazi Brotha and Gawadar mini port were initiated. Land was distributed among landless peasants in Sindh. Relations with the Central Asian Muslim Republics were strengthened and ECO. was given a boost. In an attempt to end the Afghan crisis, the “Islamabad Accord” was reached between various Afghan factions. His most important contribution was economic progress despite American sanctions on Pakistan through the Pressler Amendment.
Pakistan Muslim League again won the elections held in February 1997, and Nawaz Sharif was re-elected as Prime Minister with an overwhelming majority. Taking advantage of his absolute majority in the National Assembly, he went ahead in implementing the party’s agenda for a change. His government added a landmark to the constitutional history of Pakistan by repealing the controversial Eighth Amendment that empowered the president to dismiss the Prime Minister and dissolve the National Assembly. This repeal came through the Thirteenth Constitutional Amendment that deleted Article 58(2)(b) of the Eighth Amendment. He added another milestone to the constitution when his Parliament adopted the anti-defection Fourteenth Amendment Bill. His development venture of the Lahore-Islamabad motorway has also been appreciated by a segment of society. It was during this tenure as prime minister that Nawaz Sharif stepped up the pace of public-private partnership in strengthening the industrial sector. Projects like Ghazi Brotha and the Gawadar miniport were also initiated. The PML-N government took a bold initiative of distributing state land among landless peasants in Sindh. A massive uplift of Murree and Kahuta was completed during his term as Punjab chief minister and this helped a long way in of boosting relations with the Central Asian Muslim republics and strengthening of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) that also included Iran and Turkey in its fold. In an attempt to end conflict and crisis in Afghanistan, the government of Nawaz Sharif played a significant role of arranging a meeting of all important Afghan faction that concluded the “Islamabad Accord”. His most important contribution was the country’s economic progress despite US sanctions on Pakistan through the Pressler Amendment. The stupendous Motorway project was initiated that was completed during the second tenure. The government introduced a host of laws and the Ehtesab Act, 1997 was one of them. .
But one singular decision that overshadows all other government measures was that Pakistan will become a nuclear power. Such a meritorious credit goes to Mr Nawaz Sharif whose government carried out at Chagai (Balochistan) three nuclear tests on May 28, 1998, in response to the Indian detonation of its five nuclear devices. The Nawaz Government had found it imperative for Pakistan to carry out these nuclear tests, in order to provide an effective defense, and to deter Indian adventurism in the midst of a massive opposition worldwide. When the government made an official announcement on conducting nuclear test, it also proclaimed a state of emergency the same day. All fundamental rights were suspended and all the foreign currency accounts in Pakistani banks were frozen. The same day his government introduced the Fifteenth Amendment Bill to the National Assembly to acquire additional powers for the prime minister and his administration. The bill generated heated debate throughout the country but was passed by the National Assembly on October 9, 1998. But it could not be incorporated in the constitution because it was not sent to the Senate for approval and could not seek validity as a legal instrument. However, the bill led to a serious conflict between and among state institutions and COAS Gen Jehangir Karamat resigned on October 7. He was Gen Pervez Musharraf. The Kargil Operation in its aftermath again led to tension in relations between Nawaz Sharif and the armed forces. This tension culminated in Musharraf overthrowing Nawaz Sharif’s elected government on October 12, 1999.