© 2024
Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former Pakistan Leader Sharif Desires Return

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attends a news conference in London in October 2006.
Bertrand Langlois
AFP/Getty Images
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attends a news conference in London in October 2006.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup in 1999. Now, Musharraf faces increasing pressure to step down after sacking the country's top judge. And Sharif says he'd like to return, as does another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

Sharif says that if he returns to Pakistan he is willing to go to jail if it will take the struggle forward, faster.

"Well I have every intention to go back to Pakistan before the elections," Sharif tells Steve Inskeep. "And when will [the elections be] held, I don't know."

I'm just trying to figure out how that works if President Musharraf says he's not going to let you back in.

I think the people of Pakistan will let me back in. He can't stop me. There's no law which prevents me from coming back to my country. I am holding a Pakistani passport. How can Musharraf block my entry into Pakistan? Only he knows. Nobody else knows.

When you say Mr. Sharif that the people of Pakistan will let you back in the country, do you mean that you are hoping for demonstrations, protests against the current government that are so strong that President Musharraf would have no choice but to let you in freely?

Demonstrations are already going on and they're gaining momentum. And these demonstrations are for the restoration of rule of law. And it's a good omen for Pakistan.

Are the demonstrations strong enough that you could return now or next week?

I will give a little more time. I will wait for a little more time.

Mr. Sharif, I want to ask about the decade or so before Musharraf took power, a period in which, as you know, you were one of two dominant politicians in Pakistan.


Why do you think it was that after that period, there were many quarters inside and outside Pakistan where the military coup, at least initially, was greeted with relief?

I don't know who was celebrating the intervention of the military.

What I'm saying is that there was this military coup in 1999 and we can at least say that Pakistan, in general, received that coup with calm. There were not mass demonstrations until really years later, until almost now.

Well, everything has its own time. You see, it did take some time to recover. And, of course, Mr. Musharraf, after a few weeks, gave a very, very promising agenda, so that he keeps the hopes alive. And that failed badly and now the people are up in arms against this government.

As you know, any number of Americans have said that they may not love Gen. Musharraf, they may not love military dictators, but that he is an essential U.S. ally in the war on terror. I'd like to know if you were still prime minister, if you were still serving as prime minister and had been on Sept. 11, 2001, what, if anything, might be different today?

I don't know why some of the people in the U.S. administration think like that. Mr. Musharraf, I think, has the tendency of hoodwinking the West. Musharraf is not in the habit of taking the people of Pakistan into confidence. He acts just by himself, all alone. I would have also carried the people of Pakistan with me and fought a more effective battle against terror.

The other former prime minister in exile, Benazir Bhutto, has said that she has been involved in talks with Musharraf's government of some kind about restoring the democratic process. Have you been involved in talks with the current government?

I will never engage myself into any parleys with dictators.

You mean you wouldn't negotiate terms under which you could come home, for example?

No, no, no, not at all. You don't talk to criminals. You don't talk to traitors. Mr. Bush also refuses to talk to certain people in the world. So why should I be talking to any person who's guilty of abrogating the constitution.

Well, I'm interested in the practicalities. If you –

Yeah, practicalities – you see. I think we should take this struggle forward.

My question was if you return to Pakistan and you have no assurances from the government that you will be let alone and allowed to walk freely, are you willing to go to jail?

If we can achieve our objectives by paying the price of going into the jail, that doesn't scare me. I think, to the contrary, it will take this struggle forward. It will take the struggle faster than we all think.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.