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Monday, 11 December, 2000, 13:08 GMT
Profile: Nawaz Sharif
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Nawaz Sharif: Left Pakistan for exile in Saudi Arabia
The departure of Nawaz Sharif into exile in Saudi Arabia is the latest extraordinary twist in the career of a man who had been one of Pakistan's most powerful politicians.

The career of Nawaz Sharif
Born in 1947 in Lahore
Prime Minister in 1990
Prime Minister again in 1997
Overthrown in 1999
Goes into exile in 2000
Before his dramatic overthrow in a military coup in 1999, Mr Sharif appeared to dominate the political landscape.

He had convincing majorities in both houses of parliament, and exerted a powerful hold over all the country's major institutions - apart from the army.

But when the army seized power, Mr Sharif was arrested, and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of hijacking and terrorism.

He was also convicted of corruption and banned for life from political activities.

Punjab beginnings

Nawaz Sharif was born into the family of a prominent Lahore industrialist in 1949.

He made his mark in politics representing an urban constituency.

Kulsoom, wife of Nawaz Sharif
Wife Kulsoom: Led party into controversial alliance
He first came to national prominence when he was brought into the Punjab government during the early days of General Zia's martial law, serving as finance minister and then chief minister.

Although he was never considered a particularly impressive political figure, he proved himself a competent administrator during his time as chief minister.

He first became prime minister in 1990, but was dismissed in 1993, clearing the way for the opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, to form a government.

After becoming prime minister again in 1997 with a comfortable majority, Mr Sharif brought about a series of changes which were seen as part of an attempt to stifle any institutional opposition.

Strengthening his position

He controversially reversed a constitutional amendment which took away the president's powers to dismiss the prime minister.

Army tanks
Tension with the army heightened after Kashmir
A power struggle with the judiciary also gripped the country after Mr Sharif fell out with the then Chief Justice, Sajjad Ali Shah.

Mr Sharif faced possible disqualification from office after charges of contempt of court were brought against him, but these were eventually dismissed.

In 1998, he was confronted by another stand-off after a former army head said the army should formally have a say in the running of the government.

Tensions with the army resurfaced in 1999 when the prime minister used his influence to withdraw Pakistani-backed forces from the Indian side of the Line of Control in Kashmir in 1999.

The army has always been a highly powerful institution in Pakistan.

Mr Sharif's overthrow by General Musharraf in a bloodless coup showed how dangerous it was for any politician to attempt to curtail its influence.

Party problems

His removal from active politics and his subsequent imprisonment led to serious differences emerging within his Pakistan Muslim League party.

These threatened to become an open split with a decision by some senior party members - led by Mr Sharif's wife - to join an opposition alliance against the military.

The move - which would have meant joining forces with arch-rival Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party - was deeply controversial with some party members.

Yet within the space of a few weeks, all that seemed irrelevant as Mr Sharif and his family left for exile in Saudi Arabia after the military agreed to free him from jail.

The family said no deal had been done with the military government, and that he had gone abroad for treatment to his heart.

Yet his sudden departure must now raise questions about whether his power base in Pakistani politics can last.

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See also:

25 Aug 00 | South Asia
Sharif's party facing split
09 Aug 00 | South Asia
Politics ban for Sharif and Bhutto
22 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sharif convicted of corruption
09 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sharif supporters detained
04 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sharif denies party rift
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