Take Nawaz, turn him in­side out, chuck out a few years, throw on some head­gear, and you get the younger brother. Shah­baz Sharif is al­ways up at 6 am, func­tions on four or less hours of sleep, never misses his morn­ing swim, speaks flu­ent Ger­man and Ara­bic, is even con­sid­ered a ladies man, but un­like his big bro, he ain’t no Nero.

Known for his cel­e­brated ‘Pun­jab Speed’ brand of gov­er­nance—now lo­cal jar­gon for a quick turn­around of de­vel­op­men­tal projects—Shah­baz is the per­ma­nent run­ning back to Nawaz’s quar­ter­back. Al­though announced, it’s not clear if he will take over from Nawaz in Is­lam­abad: his aides think if Shah­baz leaves Lahore, the Shar­ifs might just lose Fortress Pun­jab.

His play dur­ing the Panama in­ves­ti­ga­tion sig­nals his in­ten­tions. The JIT re­port says he ‘dis­tanced him­self’ from the story about the Gulf Steel Mill tai­lored by his fam­ily. And in the mid­dle of the Dawn leaks de­ba­cle, when his brother’s of­fice ar­ranged for a story de­tail­ing an ar­gu­ment be­tween Shah­baz and the ISI chief, he was the first one to re­ject it and move away from the crime scene.

The brass likes him for his nonon­sense sense of gov­er­nance and his abil­ity to al­ways keep the back­door open with GHQ. Shah­baz’s sur­vival will be the ul­ti­mate lit­mus test of what re­mains of the Shar­ifs’ power.

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