Shehbaz Sharif, the person most likely to be Pakistan’s next prime minister, is little known outside his home country but has a national reputation as an effective administrator rather than a politician.
The younger brother of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz, 70, heads a opposition offer in parliament to unseat Imran Khan, and if a no-confidence motion takes place on Saturday, he is expected to replace Khan.
Analysts say Shehbaz, unlike Nawaz, enjoys friendly relations with Pakistan’s military, which traditionally controls foreign and defense policy in the nuclear-armed nation of 220 million.
Pakistan’s generals have intervened directly to topple civilian governments three times, and no prime minister has completed a full five-year term since the South Asian state’s independence from Britain in 1947.
Shehbaz, part of the wealthy Sharif dynasty, is best known for his direct and dynamic management style, which was on display when, as chief minister of Punjab province, he worked closely with China on projects financed by Beijing.
He also said in an interview last week that good relations with the United States were critical for Pakistan, for better or worse, in stark contrast to Khan’s recent antagonistic relationship with Washington.
There are still several procedural steps before Sharif can become Pakistan’s 23rd prime minister, not including interim administrations, though the opposition has consistently identified him as their only candidate.
If he takes office, he will face immediate challenges, including Pakistan’s crumbling economy, which has been hit by high inflation, a falling local currency and rapidly declining foreign exchange reserves.
Analysts also say that Sharif will not act completely independently as he will have to work on a collective agenda with the other opposition parties and his brother.
Nawaz has lived in London for the last two years since he was released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for corruption, to receive medical treatment.
As prime minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, Sharif planned and executed a series of ambitious infrastructure megaprojects, including Pakistan’s first modern mass transit system in his hometown, the eastern city of Lahore.
According to local media, China’s outgoing consul-general wrote to Sharif last year praising his execution of projects at “Punjab speed” under the massive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative.
The diplomat also said that Sharif and his party would be China’s friends in government or in opposition.
In Afghanistan, Islamabad is under international pressure to goad the Taliban into honoring its human rights commitments as it tries to limit instability there.
Unlike Khan, who has regularly denounced India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Sharif political dynasty has been more moderate with the nuclear-armed neighbor, with whom Pakistan has fought three wars.
As for his relationship with the powerful military, Sharif has long played the public “good cop” versus Nawaz’s “bad cop”; the latter has had several public disputes with the army.
Shehbaz was born in Lahore into a wealthy industrial family and educated locally. After that, he entered the family business and is now part owner of a Pakistani steel company.
He entered politics in Punjab, first becoming its prime minister in 1997 before being caught up in the national political turmoil and jailed following a military coup. He was later sent into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000.
Shehbaz returned from exile in 2007 to resume his political career, again in Punjab.
He entered the national political scene when he became the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party after Nawaz was convicted in 2017 on charges of concealing assets related to the Panama Papers revelations.
The Sharif family and their supporters say the cases were politically motivated.
Both brothers have faced numerous corruption cases at the National Accountability Office, including under Khan, but Shehbaz has not been found guilty of any charges.