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Nawaz Sharif’s Second Regime (1997-99)
Nawaz Sharif was sworn in as the Prime Minister for the second time on February 17 with a “heavy mandate”. His party-men also managed to become Chief Ministers of Punjab, Sindh, and NWFP, while his ally Akhtar Mengal of BNP took charge in Balochistan. Nawaz Sharif was lucky that Senate elections were scheduled only a month after he came to power. With his popularity in national as well as in all four provincial assemblies, he managed to gain an absolute majority in the upper house. Having two-thirds of support in both houses, Nawaz Sharif was in the position to remove the controversial 58-2 (B) from the constitution. On April 4, the thirteenth amendment was passed by the legislative body and the parliamentary form of government, in its true spirit, was restored in Pakistan. This was followed by the fourteenth amendment that closed the doors for floor-crossing in the parliament. All this made Nawaz Sharif a very powerful Prime Minister. Yet, while addressing the National Assembly, he claimed that his government would not repeat the mistakes which he committed during his last tenure and he would promote the democratic values in the country. He further pledged that his only focus would be on the economic development of Pakistan as well as on strengthening the institutional structure in the country.
His majority of acts, however, contradicted his assertions. His policy of victimization of opposition continued. He made his party member, Saif-ur-Rehman, Chairman of Ehtesab Bureau with the task to penalize opposition leaders. Zardari, along with other PPP leaders were sent behind bars while the situation was created that Benazir Bhutto should opt to leave Pakistan. On the economic front, he launched Qarz Utaro, Mulk Sanwaro scheme, in which Pakistani citizens and expatriates gave huge donations. Yet, it had not even a minor impact on his declaration to make Pakistan free from its foreign loans. The worst was that instead of making institutions he destroyed the one which already existed. Instead of strengthening his political party, he strengthened the hold of his family over it. He nominated his younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, as the Chief Minister of the biggest and the most powerful province, Punjab. Furthermore, though after the passage of the thirteenth amendment, he had no threat from the President, yet, in December, he got rid of Leghari and managed to bring in his party loyalist, Muhammad Rafiq Tarar as his replacement. He not only developed differences with the Chief Justice, Sajjad Ali Shah, and Army Chief, Gen. Jahangir Karamat but also forced both of them to quit. He wanted to gain absolute power, and for that purpose, his party tabled the fifteenth amendment bill in the parliament, commonly known as Shariat Bill, on August 28, 1998, the purpose of which was to become all-powerful Amir-ul-Momineen.
Despite all this, Nawaz Sharif had his support-base intact. He took some measures like launching mega-development projects and opening Khuli Katcheri, which enhanced his popularity amongst the masses. But the event which made him a hero of the emotional nation was when on May 28, 1998, he, in retaliation of India’s nuclear tests and disregard of the threat of sanctions from the United States, ordered Pakistan to go nuclear. Problems started for him when he developed differences with Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, whom he had appointed as the Army Chief by superseding two senior Generals. Musharraf was not happy with Nawaz Sharif’s initiative of “Bus Diplomacy” with India and when Atal Behari Vajpayee came to Pakistan in February 1999 he clearly showed his distrust by not welcoming him at the Wagah border. Kargil’s conflict with India further widened the gulf between the two. Both blamed each other for the Kargil misadventure. Understanding the writing on the wall, in September 1999, all opposition parties formed an alliance under the banner of the Grand Democratic Alliance with a one-point agenda to remove Nawaz Sharif. Eventually, on October 12, Nawaz Sharif dismissed Musharraf when he was out of the country. Senior Army officers did not accept Nawaz Sharif’s decision and as a result of a bloodless military coup, they arrested the Prime Minister and took over the command of the country. Musharraf, on his return, assumed the charge, declared him Chief Executive, inducted a non-elected civilian cabinet, and decided not to call it a Marshal Law. Constitution was suspended and Provisional Constitutional Order was enforced. Six judges of the Supreme Court refused to take oath under PCO, whoever the remaining judges validated the coup and gave Musharraf three years to fix the system before transferring power to the elected representatives of the people.