The former prime minister has come back from the political graveyard
By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's new role as Pakistan's main opposition figure is nothing short of extraordinary.
The man ousted in the bloodless 1999 coup was exiled by military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, a year later.
Mr Sharif flew back to Pakistan in November 2007 to challenge the rule of President Musharraf.
He had tried to return in September, but spent just a few hours in Pakistan before being deported again to Saudi Arabia.
At that moment, Mr Sharif's political career appeared to be over.
His re-emergence has in part been credited to pressure from the Saudi Arabian government on Islamabad.
Political uncertainty during President Musharraf's negotiations with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto - who was assassinated days before the elections were due - may also have played a part.
Support is strong in Punjab province...
Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) emerged with the largest number of seats in Pakistan's newly elected parliament.
But the real surprise came from Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which routed the parties allied to President Musharraf.
Forming an alliance with the PPP, Mr Sharif made it clear he just had two demands - to remove President Musharraf and restore judges sacked by him.
Within months, the former was achieved with the former army general being forced to resign. A bitter struggle between these two long-standing adversaries had finally been won by Mr Sharif.
It was a moment of sweet victory and another unusual twist in the career of a man who was once Pakistan's most powerful politician.
Before his dramatic overthrow 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.
But an alleged deal, brokered by the Saudis, saved him and other family members from being put behind bars.
Mr Sharif, along with 40 members of his family, was thus exiled to Saudi Arabia for what was supposed to be a period of 10 years.
Nawaz Sharif was born into the family of a prominent Lahore industrialist in 1949.
He made his mark in politics representing an urban constituency.
... but relations with the security forces have not always been rosy
He first came to national prominence during the early days of General Zia's martial law, serving as Punjab province's finance and then chief minister.
Never considered a particularly impressive political figure, he proved himself a competent administrator during his ministerial tenures.
He became prime minister in 1990, but was dismissed in 1993, clearing the way for the then 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 constitutional changes.
These were seen as an attempt to stifle any institutional opposition to his rule.
He controversially reversed a constitutional amendment which took away the president's powers to dismiss the prime minister.
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.
The army has always been a highly powerful institution in Pakistan.
Mr Sharif's overthrow by Gen Musharraf showed how dangerous it was for any politician to attempt to curtail its influence.
His removal from active politics and his subsequent imprisonment led to serious differences emerging within his Pakistan Muslim League (PML) 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.
The split became a reality soon after Mr Sharif was sent into exile and the PML-N came into existence.
Erstwhile party loyalists, led by veteran politician Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, announced support for Gen Musharraf.
Before the 2002 general elections, these rebels formed the PML-Q (Quaid-e-Azam) with a strong pro-Musharraf stance.
Mr Sharif's career has been marked by up and downs
The PML-Q was elected to form the government in 2002 and remained "Musharraf's party" until its defeat in the 2008 elections.
Despite speculation to the contrary, it has managed to survive and remains an important opposition player.
In a 25 February ruling by Pakistan's Supreme Court, both Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz, who was Punjab chief minister, were declared ineligible to stand for public office.
Mr Sharif described it as a betrayal by President Asif Zardari, who he accused of ordering the ruling.
The two had appeared to be the closest of allies after winning the elections in February last year.
But Mr Zardari's continued reluctance to reinstate the sacked judges led to an open political battle on the streets of Pakistan.
Silencing his detractors, Mr Sharif personally led the protesters as Mr Zardari had to succumb to immense political pressure and restore the judges.
That victory has propelled Mr Sharif into a position that even the most fanciful of pundits would have thought unlikely before his return.
Mr Sharif is now without doubt the most popular leader in Pakistan.