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Exiled Former Prime Minister Plans to Return to Pakistan

August 27, 2007 at 6:45 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, the former and possible future prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif. Sharif, whose time in office was clouded by charges of corruption, has been prime minister twice. The second time, he was deposed in a military coup by current Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf. Last Thursday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled the exiled leader could return home. Sharif immediately pledged to challenge Musharraf’s military rule.

Margaret Warner interviewed Sharif in London on Saturday.

MARGARET WARNER: Prime Minister Sharif, thank you for joining us.

NAWAZ SHARIF, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: After the court ruling last Thursday, you said you were going back to Pakistan soon. How soon?

NAWAZ SHARIF: The working committee of the party has met today, and their recommendation is that I shall return as early as possible. They say that I should return before the beginning of month of Ramadan.

MARGARET WARNER: And when is that?

NAWAZ SHARIF: I think it’s about maybe two or three weeks away.

MARGARET WARNER: The Supreme Court said that you had an inalienable right as a Pakistani citizen to return to Pakistan, but what does that really mean? Do you have any guarantees that when you arrive you won’t be immediately arrested and taken to fulfill your sentence?

NAWAZ SHARIF: Musharraf certainly would like to arrest me, and he’s warning me, and he must have fabricated cases against me, bogus cases, as he has been doing in the past against me. This time around, I’m sure that he’ll be thinking on these lines again.

MARGARET WARNER: You said he’s warning you. You mean, since the Supreme Court ruling, he has sent warnings that if you come back, you’ll be arrested?

NAWAZ SHARIF: Yes, he’s saying that. His people are saying that. His ministers are saying that. I think he wants to scare me; he wants to frighten me that I should not come back to Pakistan and play my role in the restoration of rule of law in Pakistan and should not play my role in the restoration of the constitution.

Negotiating with Musharraf

MARGARET WARNER: So if you go back and you step off that plane, what do you think will happen?

NAWAZ SHARIF: I am simply going back to my country, my homeland, after seven years absence from Pakistan. I think I have every right to go back. If the people want to receive me at the airport, why should Mr. Musharraf object to it? And why would he like to prevent the people from coming to the airport or according me any reception? So I don't know. What is he worried about?

MARGARET WARNER: So you are going to confront him essentially?

NAWAZ SHARIF: There is no confrontation from my side. I am a person who support the constitution, who support independence of the judiciary, who support the rule of law, who opposes dictatorship, who opposes military rule, who opposes the role the army has assumed in politics in Pakistan. And I'm a man who want a democratic Pakistan, not a Pakistan with dictatorship.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, another former exiled prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, is taking a different approach, and she's been in negotiations with Musharraf. Her argument is it is better to find an accommodation than to have a confrontation. Do you disagree with that?

NAWAZ SHARIF: I think her negotiations with Musharraf will only strengthen dictatorship in Pakistan and it will be serving no cause to democracy. Let me tell you that Benazir Bhutto and myself, we are in agreement that we launch a struggle for the restoration of democracy, for the restoration of rule of law, and the constitution in Pakistan.

We signed a charter of democracy. This document was signed by us both almost one-and-a-half years ago. I stick to those principles of the charter of democracy, because it very clearly says that there can be no parlays, no negotiations, and no deal with dictators, especially military rulers. So her entering into any deal with Musharraf is a very clear violation of the charter of democracy that she signed with me together.

MARGARET WARNER: So are you calling on her to abandon those negotiations?

NAWAZ SHARIF: Yes, I think those negotiations must be abandoned, because we democrats must not be strengthening the hands of a dictator. We have to be very clear: Do we support democracy, or do we support dictatorship?

"The restoration of democracy"

MARGARET WARNER: Now, after the court ruling, General Musharraf actually spoke about the need for mutual reconciliation. Are there any backchannel talks going on between you and him that would allow you, in fact, to come back, get off that plane, and go do what you want to do, return unmolested?

NAWAZ SHARIF: Well, actually, you see, we don't believe in any backchannels, you see. This is a struggle for the restoration of democracy. And in the entire nation today, the entire civil society of the country, the lawyers community, the intelligentsia, the media, the political forces in the country are all together on this. And I think any backdoor channels will be an exercise in futility.

MARGARET WARNER: What if he imposes emergency rule, as he flirted with a couple of weeks ago, or martial law? What then?

NAWAZ SHARIF: Well, I think then that is tantamount to bulldozing the constitution, the law, the law of the land. He will be then responsible for the consequences.

MARGARET WARNER: What would those consequences be?

NAWAZ SHARIF: It will be chaos in the country, and God forbid there could also be a possible civil war. We might be heading for a civil war, because the entire Pakistani society is up in arms against Musharraf's dictatorship. And they will not tolerate that.

We've seen a lot of martial laws in Pakistan. We've seen a lot of military rules which have brought so many sufferings for the people of Pakistan. And we don't want any more catastrophe in the country.

Returning to Pakistan

MARGARET WARNER: So let me just be clear here: You plan to go back and essentially call Musharraf's bluff, in terms of whether he'll arrest you or not?

NAWAZ SHARIF: If he wants to put me in the jail, let him put me in the jail, because he kept me in the jail and in torture cells in small, little dungeons for 14 months after staging coup-d'etat against my government. So I'm not scared of these things at all. So I will go. And if he does that, I will face that.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, you had some tough words for the United States on Thursday. You were critical of the United States for what you said was "supporting uniformed tyranny." Are you calling on the U.S. to abandon Musharraf?

NAWAZ SHARIF: We have good relations with the United States of America. When I was a prime minister, we had the best of relations with the United States of America.

I think that Pakistan and Musharraf must not be equated, and Pakistan means 160 million people of Pakistan. If America wants to fight an effective battle against terror, it will be fought through the 160 million people of Pakistan, not through one single individual whose name is Pervez Musharraf.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you so much.

NAWAZ SHARIF: Pleasure.

GWEN IFILL: All this week, Margaret will be filing stories from Pakistan on our Web site at PBS.org. Next Monday, her first report will be on the air.