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Still to decide on joining govt: Sharif

We’ll pick up the threads of dialogue with India, says former Pak PM and points to Vajpayee’s 1999 Lahore visit in an exclusive chat with Vinod Sharma.

world Updated: Feb 27, 2008 03:19 IST
Vinod Sharma

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is sparingly credited for his sense of humour. “Allah ka shukar hai. Bhagwan ki kirpa hai,” he good-naturedly remarked, settling down for an exclusive question-answer session with the Hindustan Times in the lavishly furnished living room of his Raiwind farmhouse. Excerpts:

Has common ground emerged between the PPP-PML-N combine on the dismissed judiciary’s restoration and the future of President Musharraf?

There is agreement on most issues because they are written down in the charter of democracy (signed by Benazir Bhutto with Sharif). That means restoration of the 1973 Constitution, the rule of law and doing away with the amendments the dictators brought into the Constitution. The judges’ removal was a new, very ugly development. My party, the civil society and many other parties had committed to the people that if we come to power, we will restore the judiciary to the November 2, 2007 position (a day before Musharraf assumed emergency powers and sent the judges packing). We have very clearly told Asif Ali Zardari that the judges’ restoration is item number one on our agenda. Democracy isn’t possible without the judiciary’s independence. That depends in turn on the judges’ restoration. Or else, the judges sitting in the Supreme Court and High Courts (after the purge) will also claim independence. If we do not act, the doctrine of necessity the judiciary invoked each time the military interfered in politics, will continue to live. We have agreed on a formulation. It says there is no disagreement on the judges’ restoration — modalities for which have to be worked out.

Will Parliament work out the modalities?

It will be done when Parliament comes into session.

There is a view that the dismissals can be undone through an executive order.

We are working that out. We are seeking legal advice.

Will your party share power with the PPP at the Centre and in Punjab?

Our party is yet to take a decision on whether we want to share power at the Centre. Musharraf’s presidency is unconstitutional and illegal in the eyes of the people. Our party men will never like to take oath as cabinet ministers under him. He’s the one who will administer oath if he does not step down before that. This is a very serious matter. Then there is the issue of the (pro-Musharraf) MQM (being in the government).

Zardari has indicated that Maulana Fazlur Rahman (also known for his proximity to Musharraf ) could also join the coalition.

Well, it’s up to them.

What about Punjab? Do you want the PPP in the provincial government?

We are together at the Centre and in the provinces. We are each other’s supporters. We will be very happy if they participate in the government in Punjab.

Zardari has talked of the need for a working relationship with Musharraf. He obviously is disinclined to start on a note of confrontation.

We are not trying to pick up confrontation. If we have to go back to democracy, we cannot think of working with a man responsible for getting this country in such a great mess. The President destroyed our institutions. It’s this man, Musharraf, who sacked the judges and put them under house arrest. We cannot come to terms with his illegal and unconstitutional actions. Our view is different. The February 18 verdict clearly says: ‘Step down Musharraf; we don’t accept you and your Q-League.’

You have promised a full five-year term for the federal government. But the term wouldn’t be fruitful if your party does not share power with the PPP.

We are together. We fought elections separately. But we fought them together against dictatorship. Democracy has won. We shouldn’t now be playing a role that again strengthens dictatorship. I don’t know on what grounds a working relationship can be established with the President? What will be the target? What will we achieve out of it? It will be a great disappointment for the people of Pakistan.

What do you make of US support for the Musharraf presidency?

President Bush and his administration must understand the mandate that rejected Musharraf’s policies. They must not equate one man with 160 million Pakistanis. The people of this country look forward to maintaining good relations with the US. But that cannot be at the cost of democracy.

Will you support the ongoing composite dialogue with India?

We will support it fully. We stand for peaceful resolution with India of all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. Its foundation was laid when I was Prime Minister and Vajpayee came to Pakistan (on a bus). Those memories are very fresh in my mind. We will like to pick up the threads from where we left.

Do you plan to visit India in your capacity as a major leader of this country?

I look forward to visiting India. It is a great country that is our neighbour. There is so much potential that we can exploit by working together. We are one sub-continent but two countries. That does not mean we fight each other. This is the time to establish very cordial, friendly relations. Building strong ties with India was in the PML’s 1997 manifesto that got us two-thirds majority.