Who is Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan’s new prime minister?
Part of the wealthy Sharif clan, Shehbaz is best known for his ‘can-do’ administrative style, displayed when he was Punjab chief minister.
Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan’s next prime minister, is little known outside his home country but has a reputation domestically as an effective administrator more than as a politician.
The younger brother of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz, 70, led the opposition’s bid in parliament to topple Imran Khan. Following Saturday’s vote of no-confidence, Shehbaz was elected to the post on Monday.
Analysts say Shehbaz, unlike Nawaz, enjoys amicable relations with Pakistan’s military, which traditionally controls foreign and defence policy in the nuclear-armed nation of 220 million people.
Pakistan’s generals have directly intervened to topple civilian governments three times, and no prime minister has finished a full five-year term since the South Asian state’s independence from Britain in 1947.
Shehbaz, part of the wealthy Sharif dynasty, is best known for his direct, “can-do” administrative style, which was on display when, as chief minister of Punjab province, he worked closely with China on Beijing-funded projects.
“The country is in all sorts of mess, thanks to the epic misgovernance and mismanagement of the Imran Khan government. From paralysed bureaucracy to the foreign policy challenges to the broken economy, the chaos is reigning supreme,” Shehbaz told Al Jazeera before he was elected.
He also said that good relations with “friendly countries” were critical for Pakistan for better or for worse.
“Repairing Pakistan’s relatons with the friendly countries is also a top item on my list. We are a responsible nation and look forward to working with friends and allies to promote our bilateral and multilateral relations,” he said.
Shehbaz faces immediate challenges as prime minister, not least Pakistan’s crumbling economy, which has been hit by high inflation, a tumbling local currency and rapidly declining foreign exchange reserves.
“I believe fixing economy is uppermost on my agenda. We need to give confidence to the market to make it stage a comeback. At the same time, there is also the challenge of providing relief to the masses whose lives have been made miserable due to the flawed economic policies of the PTI government,” Shehbaz told Al Jazeera.
Analysts also say Shehbaz will not act with complete independence as he will have to work on a collective agenda with the other opposition parties and his brother.
Nawaz has lived for the last two years in London since being let out of jail, where he was serving a sentence for corruption, for medical treatment.
As chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, Shehbaz planned and executed a number of ambitious infrastructure mega-projects, including Pakistan’s first modern mass transport system in his hometown, the eastern city of Lahore.
According to local media, the outgoing Chinese consul general wrote to Shehbaz last year praising his “Punjab Speed” execution of projects under the huge China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative.
The diplomat also said Shehbaz and his party would be friends of China in government or in opposition.
On Afghanistan, Islamabad is under international pressure to prod the Taliban to meet its human rights commitments while trying to limit instability there.
Unlike Imran, who has regularly denounced India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Sharif political dynasty has been more dovish towards the fellow nuclear-armed neighbour, with which Pakistan has fought three wars.
In terms of his relationship with the powerful military, Shehbaz has long played the public “good cop” to Nawaz’s “bad cop” – the latter has had several public spats with the army.
Shehbaz was born in Lahore into a wealthy industrial family and was educated locally. After that, he entered the family business and now jointly owns a Pakistani steel company.
He entered politics in Punjab, becoming its chief minister for the first time in 1997 before he was caught up in national political upheaval and imprisoned following a military coup. He was then sent into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000.
Shehbaz returned from exile in 2007 to resume his political career, again in Punjab.
He entered the national political scene when he became the chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party after Nawaz was found guilty in 2017 on charges of concealing assets related to the Panama Papers revelations.
The Sharif family and supporters say the cases were politically motivated.
Both brothers have faced numerous corruption cases in the National Accountability Bureau, including under Imran’s premiership, but Shehbaz has not been found guilty on any charges.
Additional reporting by Alia Chughtai in Islamabad, Pakistan