Nawaz Sharif gets third attempt at running Pakistan

Nawaz Sharif seen casting his vote in Pakistan on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Not all those who fail get a stab at redemption. But that is exactly what the next Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has won for himself. It will be his third attempt to get it right.

When he was turfed from office (the second time he held it) in a quiet military coup in 1999, he wasn’t missed. Coups that are bloodless point to the unpopularity of the usurped.

Subsequently jailed and then exiled, not many Pakistanis had much sympathy for a man they regarded as crooked and inept.

His comeback has been gradual and considered: that of an older and wiser politician. Mr Sharif acknowledges past mistakes but says he has learned from them.

The electorate seem to have taken him at his word for he has won a thumping victory. His should be a stable government for he will not need any other party bloc to form a coalition; a few independents will do.

Sharif is a conservative who burnished his nationalistic credentials by ordering nuclear tests in 1998. He had stood up to India and the West by advertising Pakistani might.

That should give him capital as he seeks better relations with Delhi, Kabul and the West.

Sharif inspects his troops during the final months of his previous spell as prime minister. Credit: Reuters

However his position on Islamic militancy is confusing to outsiders. His party and its supporters were spared the murderous Taliban onslaught that marred the countdown to polling day.

The Taliban directed their suicide bombers at the personnel and events of the parties of the outgoing government, an administration that prosecuted a war against them.

The fact that Mr Sharif was immune to attack will lead to concerns in Washington and London that he is soft on extremism.

He will argue that his position gives him the chance to play a mediating role that could bring the Taliban to the negotiating table ahead of the Coalition withdrawal from Afghanistan next year.

Overall he will need good relations with the West. Pakistan’s dire economic plight means it will almost certainly have to go back to the IMF for more money.

In recent years Pakistan has been a country of perennial crisis. Few other nations are as unpopular with the rest of the world.

Mr Sharif spoke for many of his fellow countrymen and women when he said he wanted to make Pakistan respectable.

If he can redeem his country, he’ll redeem himself in the process.

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