Lahore: Politics in Pakistan continues to be in a state of ferment, with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani saying on Sunday that the Pakistan Peoples Party does not want a confrontation with President Pervez Musharraf. This is bound to widen the rift-in-the-making between Nawaz Sharif, the president of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), and Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto and co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Sharif withdrew his ministers from the PPP-led coalition government on 15 May, accusing his political partner of going back on the promise to reinstate judges deposed by Musharraf last year.
The 58-year-old Sharif has twice been prime minister of Pakistan and knows India well. He was the initiator of the “Lahore bus” peace process in February 1999, a move that was abruptly ended when his then chief of army staff, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, invaded India at Kargil in May 1999. Sharif remained in power through that period, and subsequently accused Musharraf of betraying him. In October 1999, he was ousted in a coup by Musharraf and jailed. He subsequently cut a deal with Musharraf that allowed him freedom in exchange for a seven-year exile in Saudi Arabia. Sharif’s party, along with PPP, won the February elections. He spoke to Mint on 24 May in Raiwind, an enormous farmhouse spread over 400 acres and located an hour’s drive from Lahore. Edited excerpts:
The political situation in Pakistan seems fragile after you withdrew your ministers from the coalition.
Yes, but the foundation is strong; we have no intention of deserting Zardari, although we are a little disappointed that our decision (to reinstate the judges) has not been implemented. It was a commitment to the nation and should have been implemented and honoured, so we are a little dismayed on that score. But we are not going to destabilize the system and allow the dictator to take any undue advantage of the situation.
What next? A file photo of Pakistan Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif. According to Sharif, restoration of deposed judges is the most important job for the new government. (Photo: Aamir Quereshi/AFP)
Zardari has said that Musharraf is a relic of the past. What do you think?
But you have been dealing with the dictator! The Indian government has been extending a lot of support and patronage to this dictator. I think India should have waited for a while so that true democracy could have returned back to Pakistan. The man who was responsible for derailing democratic forces in Pakistan, as well as the forces of normalization of relations between the two countries, was recognized by India! India, with such strong democratic credentials, was not expected to deal with the dictator. I hardly say these things, but I am saying this now.
Are you disappointed that India did these things?
Not disappointed…but you should have seen through this man, a man who was responsible for Kargil, a man who was responsible for killing so many innocent people, a man who derailed the Lahore peace process.
Since that Lahore bus ride, we’ve lost 10 years…
We have lost 10 valuable years. Inside Pakistan too, we have also lost 10 valuable years; otherwise the political leadership would have contributed a lot.
Benazir Bhutto and me were forced to stay away from this country…these military dictators have no justification to step in and take over—look what they’ve done, they’ve played havoc with the democratic institutions of Pakistan, such as the judiciary.
These judges that we have now, we don’t recognize them as judges.
They aren’t judges, they are hand-picked stooges of President Musharraf! We say this openly, we make no bones about these things. They owe their loyalty not to the state, but to Musharraf.
What do you foresee now?
We have to get rid of the dictatorship. I hope Zardari realizes this as quickly as possible. I am trying to stress upon this, I am trying to urge him to do so. This is the window of opportunity. The people very clearly want change and they have said it in the mandate of 18 February.
But the old faces are still around. Musharraf is there, his cronies are there, all those who subverted the constitution are still there, those who hatched this conspiracy against the judges are still there. That is one of the causes of dissatisfaction in the people. I hope this doesn’t end up in some sort of frustration for the political forces
What do you mean?
The people might get fed up. They wanted change, and that change is not coming.
Do you think Zardari is holding back for some reason?
He is the best person to answer that question.
Do you think he is not honouring the verdict of the people?
I can’t make any comments on his behalf. I can only say that we feel that it’s very important to get rid of the dictator; (that) we finally say goodbye to him. This man has imposed martial law twice, in 1999 and in 2007—how can the parliament now allow him to decide his fate?
I think parliament should force this man to quit. It should refuse to grant any indemnity to this man. Parliament should immediately reverse all amendments that he brought to the constitution, take back all the powers that he took away. These are the number one priorities of the parliament.
But there is the problem of the army. It could choose to step in at any minute?
I don’t think the army can ever step in if we have an independent judiciary, and the only way we can have an independent judiciary is by restoring the judges. So they are the first check.
This man, the present chief of the army staff, Gen. Ashraf Kiyani, is a decent man, he seems to be respecting the constitution, he is known for his professional duties. We, of course, have to make sure that there will be no such intervention in the future and for that we must have an independent judiciary.
Why is it important to drop Article 58 (2B) in the Constitution (which gives the President the power to dissolve parliament, dismiss the PM and appoint the three service chiefs)?
This article wasn’t there in the 1973 constitution, so we have to take it back. Do you have a 58 (2B) in India?
Why did you exit the government on 15 May and leave the coalition very shaky?
It was difficult for us to explain to the people, why we were lingering on. It became very embarrassing for us not to have (reinstated the judges). Never before has this country seen anything like this, we left the corridors of power. Doesn’t happen very often even in India (laughs).
Zardari has finally said Musharraf is a relic of the past…
He should have said this much earlier, because that is what the people have decided.
So you are happy that he is rediscovering the people’s verdict.
It is never too late.