Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Pakistan's political future? It's all in the family.

Three political clans introduce the next generation of leaders.

(Page 2 of 2)

Elahi: CEO mentality?

Skip to next paragraph

For Elahi, it is as obvious as his appearance, which is as precise as a stockbroker's. Elahi presents himself as the eager, fresh-faced reformer – a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business seeking to bring a CEO's mentality to the opaque world of Pakistani politics.

The degree has shaped his political agenda most, he says. When he returned from America to help run his family's sugar factories, for example, "I saw that everything was done more as a favor than on merit," he says. "It was shocking to me.… I couldn't apply a lot of what I had learned."

He has been a controversial figure at times. Opposition leaders allege that he has used his status to his advantage. They have leveled a wide array of charges against him – from hoarding real estate to helping his father steal billions of rupees from Punjab through a front company.

Elahi has denied the charges, claiming he has done everything possible to avoid the appearance of impropriety, turning down bribes himself and constantly monitoring his staff. Whatever the truth, it is the sort of mudslinging endemic to politics here, says Najam Sethi, editor of the Daily News, a Lahore-based national newspaper.

"There's always talk, but there's never any evidence," he says. "If it wasn't about him, it would be about some other chap."

Sharif: need for tolerance

For his part, Sharif has seen firsthand how deep political rivalries go in Pakistan – and how they can change lives. At 19, he was imprisoned for six months, the result of a political feud against his family, he says. Then, seven years later, the rest of his family was exiled by Musharraf, who overthrew Sharif's uncle in a bloodless coup.

From 2000 until late last year, when his family returned, he was the only representative of the Sharif family in Pakistan. "For five years, I was not allowed to meet my mother … and eight years I spent without my family," he says. "How can you give eight years back to a person?"

He saw the same things in jail as a teenager, watching mothers and sisters who waited in the heat for hours to see their sons and brothers in prison "but didn't have the money to bribe someone."

"There is a great gap between the haves and have-nots," he says. "These things really touched my heart."

Though also schooled abroad, receiving a bachelor's degree in law from the London School of Economics, he presents a less polished image than does Elahi. While Elahi looks the part of politician – clearly excited by the prospect – Sharif's reticence is evident.

In 2002, he declined to run for a provincial or national seat despite his father's exhortations. Now, with his younger brother overseeing the family business and his father and uncle again off the ballot, he says his time has come.

Drawing from his own experience, he recites what he thinks Pakistan needs most: First, the restoration of the judges that Musharraf sacked during his emergency rule, and second, the ability to separate politics from personality.

For more than a decade, he notes, his uncle and Benazir Bhutto were bitter enemies. But in the days before her assassination, he adds, "Benazir Bhutto would call my uncle several times a week."

It was, to him, a glimpse of what Pakistan could be. "There has to be an atmosphere of tolerance – it should not turn into personal animosity," he says. "In a democracy, you have to tolerate criticism if it will make you wiser."