JEDDAH, 7 August — Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been staying in Jeddah for more than 18 months, spends most of his time these days on the Internet to catch up on world events.
This reporter from the Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News, spent several hours with Sharif at his residence in Jeddah recently to know his daily programs and concerns.
In order to get himself updated with global events and developments, Sharif spends a lot of time reading international newspapers and browsing websites.
At the outset of my meeting with Sharif, it was evident that the exiled former premier did not want to talk about politics in Pakistan and the latest developments there. He said the time was not ripe yet for such talks.
I first interviewed the exiled leader in Jeddah last year. He was asked about reports on his contribution to a deal for purchasing the Danube supermarket chain. Sharif denied any role in the deal, which was won by the Bin Dawood Group.
In the latest interview, the former premier reiterated that he is no longer involved in business deals as his business interests are taken care of by his son Hussein. Hussein recently established an iron and steel factory in Jeddah in partnership with Saudi businessmen.
Speaking to the daily, Hussein said he was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Mian Muhammad Sharif, who is now 84. A prominent businessman in Pakistan, Mian Sharif has been in business, especially in sugar industry, since 1937.
Sharif explained that his business background had influenced his views in support of the private sector while he was prime minister in 1990 and 1997.
During his long stay in Jeddah, the former premier got accustomed to many Saudi customs and traditions. He has also taken a liking to Saudi dishes and finds the local food suitable for his stomach. Sharif, who was born in Lahore in 1949, has learned several Arabic words. “The first Arabic expression I learned was ‘Kaif Al-Hal’,” he said. He expressed his desire to learn more Arabic words and expressions. Sharif inquired about the southern resort city of Abha and voiced his intent to visit the city.
The former premier has been a frequent visitor to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah over the past months. While talking about his journeys, he expressed his desire to return to his homeland. He was nostalgic while talking about Pakistan.
Sharif completed his secondary education at St. Anthony’s School. After graduating from the Government College, Lahore, he joined Punjab University and obtained a bachelor’s degree in law. He worked as a member of the Punjab Provincial Council for sometime before becoming the finance minister of Punjab in 1981. He also held the portfolio of sports in the same province.
He won election in 1985 and became the chief minister of Punjab. On Nov. 6, 1990, Sharif became prime minister after his coalition won the Oct. 24 general election. He was not able to complete his five-year term as he was forced to resign by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993. The Supreme Court later restored him. But he was again forced out of office in July that year. During the three years he was premier, Sharif exerted a lot of efforts to promote industrial progress with the support of the private sector.
In February 1997, Sharif was re-elected as prime minister after his Pakistan Muslim League party swept Oct. 12 1999 election. Sharif was overthrown in a bloodless military coup on Oct. 12, 1999.
Sharif lives in a villa with a big garden in central Jeddah. He uses part of his house as his office where he is assisted by a number of secretarial staff.