Hamza Shahbaz’s political awakening began in October 1999, when life as he knew it changed dramatically. General Pervez Musharraf took power in a coup and sent his father Shahbaz Sharif, his uncle Nawaz Sharif and much of the rest of his family into exile.
It was a harsh baptism into the world of Pakistani power politics for the then 20-something. More used to a life of privilege, he had then to deal with a range of issues concerning the Sharif family, for whom he was now the sole representative in Pakistan.
“I learnt a lot, from having my family in power, to running around dealing with court cases,” recalls Hamza, sitting at his party’s Model Town offices, right beneath a large portrait of a tiger.
Now in his late 30s he is coy about revealing his exact age – Hamza has modelled himself on his uncle rather than his father. “My compatibility is greater with my uncle. He understands me well,” he says.
He says he sees both Shahbaz and Nawaz Sharif as role models, but also seeks to step out of their shadows. “When I won [in a by-election at NA-119 in 2008], I did not want to work in the shadows. I wanted to take initiatives on my own and prove my worth,” he says.
His priorities, he says, were education and health. His constituency got new or renovated women’s colleges in Gowalmandi and Choona Mandi, model hospitals in the vicinity of the Walled City, and restored historic sites. He says he was content with his performance. NA-118 has long been a PML-N stronghold and he is favourite to win this seat again.
Hamza vigorously defends the PML-N’s record of the last five years: Danish Schools, the laptop scheme, the construction of 4,500 IT labs and setting up of a Rs10 billion Punjab Endowment Fund. He says his party has made education their top priority. “We have worked at making education accessible to the lower stratum of society.
Everyone deserves equal and quality opportunities, especially in education,” he says.
He rejects the PTI’s criticisms of the PML-N’s education initiatives. “The laptop scheme was meant to benefit the youth, not to buy them off,” he says.
The Metro Bus Service, he says, has eased the commute for almost 150,000 residents of Lahore. There was no corruption in any projects. “There is no room for the old politics now,” he adds.
Tehreek-i-Insaf’s slogan of building a ‘Naya Pakistan’ rings hollow, he says. “The same faces we saw in the Musharraf era are now siding with Imran Khan. This is plain hypocrisy,” he says.
He also dismisses Imran Khan’s claim about ending terrorism in 90 days. “No one has a magic wand that will end terrorism.”
The PML-N believes in countering terrorism through dialogue, but it will take time,” he says. Another major challenge for the next government would be to tackle the energy crisis.
The upcoming elections, Hamza says, are a historic moment as they represent the first transition from one elected government to another.
“Leaving aside the quality of that government, it still is an achievement,” he says.
This time, he says, young people will have a large say in determining the outcome of the polls. But he adds: “I hope the youth will not be exploited by emotionally-charged slogans.”
For himself, Hamza’s ambition is to build a bigger identity outside the family name. “I don’t want to be remembered as Hamza Shahbaz Sharif. I want t be remembered as a person who did something for the people,” he says.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2013.