Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif talks fondly about his one-time arch rival and bitter critic Benazir Bhutto, reserves his wrath for President Pervez Musharraf and believes firmly that a conspiracy is afoot to defer the January 8 polls to rig them at a later date to save the pro-army Muslim League (Quaid) from a near-total rout.
“Musharraf has brought the situation to a point where there is total breakdown of law and order from Peshawar to Karachi. They will promote violence and then use it as an excuse for getting elections postponed,” alleged Sharif. “We are determined to fight all conspiracies to subvert democracy; we’ll rid Pakistan of Musharraf’s illegal control of institutions.”
The PPP and the PML(N) are against any change in the poll schedule. But the Election Commission is busy seeking reports from the four provinces to ascertain the feasibility of it all. “Who is the EC talking to? Nobody has approached us,” protested Sharif even as his brother Shahbaz dismissed as “product of a sick mind” the League’s charge that his party had a hand in the incidents of looting and arson.
In an exclusive interaction with the Hindustan Times at his sprawling farmhouse here on Monday, Sharif admitted that at times he wasn’t even on talking terms with Benazir during his first 1990-93 term as Prime Minister. But they “were in a dialogue in recent months” and agreed on a charter of democracy for their country.
Turning a tad emotional, the PML leader remarked that Benazir was dead and they weren’t on talking terms again: “Baat phir bandh ho gaye hai kyonki woh ab is duniya mein nahin hain. Mujhe unke is tarah jaaney se bahut dukh hai.” (Talks have stopped once more since she is no longer with us. The way she has left us makes me sad).
He said his main plank now was to pursue the charter of democracy which cannot be realised without Musharraf’s resignation and institution of a government of national consensus for conducting free and fair elections.
The interim regime should also restore the dismissed Supreme Court judges and assign to them the task of probing Benazir's assassination.
Sharif was in a quandary when asked whether Benazir's identification with the US agenda in Pakistan could have led to her killing. He said the answer lay in the letter she wrote to her Washington spokesman Mark Siegal stating that she would hold Musharraf responsible if anything happened to her.
The former PM also avoided answering straight the question whether the PPP leadership agreed with his demand for Musharraf's resignation, especially when Benazir's spouse Asif Ali Zardari has clarified that his party's battle wasn't against the army, but only a section of the establishment. "Benazir used to say that Musharraf should step down. We had decided to jointly fight dictatorship," he replied.
Amid projections that the PPP might sweep the polls, Sharif has as much to worry as the Q league supporting Musharraf. For that reason, he did not rule out a post-poll power sharing arrangement "if it is in the interest of the country."
If in power, will his party support the peace process Musharraf initiated with India in 2004? "Are you giving credit for peace to someone who carried out Kargil," he countered. "If we did not believe in peace, we would not have laid the foundation for it with AB Vajpayee's bus ride in 1998."
Sharif's advice to US President George Bush was that he should support democracy and the people of Pakistan, not an individual. "Washington's policy of supporting one man (read Musharraf) is antagonizing millions in this country."