SPIEGEL Interview with Pakistan's Former Prime Minister 'The Pro-Democracy Movement Must Evolve into a Major Uprising'

The former prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf in a coup in 1999. He spoke to SPIEGEL about the unrest in his country, the prospects for a return to democracy, the war on terror and President Musharraf's future.

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif wants to see a major uprising against the "uniformed president."

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif wants to see a major uprising against the "uniformed president."

SPIEGEL: Since Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf fired Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry in March, almost 100 people have died in violence across the country. Daily mass demonstrations demanding Musharraf’s ouster have all but paralyzed cities. Is Pakistan sinking into chaos?

Nawaz Sharif: Generals have always been a curse upon our country. Every coup has ended in catastrophe. Musharraf has reduced this parliament to a rubber stamp. It has no powers and can be sacked by uniformed generals anytime. He has tampered with the constitution. Now, it’s the judiciary’s turn -- no wonder there is chaos on the streets.

SPIEGEL: But the bloodshed has since spread across the country, particularly to the remote areas bordering Afghanistan.

Sharif: Violence has been on the rise ever since Musharraf usurped power. Parties in tribal Balochistan hate Musharraf because he used the army to murder their popular leader Nawab Bugti in broad daylight in August last year. Pro-Taliban groups hate him because he supports the US-led war in the region. Finally, almost all political parties in the country hold him responsible for the recent riots and deaths in Karachi. The situation is bound to worsen.

SPIEGEL: Last year, you and your political rival Benazir Bhutto -- another former prime minister in exile -- agreed to work to restore democracy in Pakistan. Given the situation in the country, has your time come?

Government opponents march in Lahore.

Government opponents march in Lahore.

Sharif: For that, the present movement must evolve into a major uprising. Ms. Bhutto and I don’t merely want to restore democracy, but strengthen it in such a way that the army returns, once and for all, to its barracks, keeps its hands off politics and respects the constitution of Pakistan.

SPIEGEL: But shortly after signing your joint Charter for Democracy, Ms. Bhutto reportedly struck a deal on the side with Musharraf -- one, that envisages her as prime minister and Musharraf as president. Observers who believe that Pakistan has enjoyed greater stability under military rule than under squabbling politicians, are not surprised.

Sharif: She admitted on television that she was in touch with Musharraf but said there was no deal. Our joint Charter clearly says there can be no dialogue with army dictators. I, for my part, have adhered to it.

SPIEGEL: The United States also wants to see democracy restored in Pakistan …

Sharif: … Sure -- by supporting a uniformed president in Islamabad! It’s a joke …

SPIEGEL: … on the other hand, General Musharraf is Washington’s most important ally in their war against terror in the region. Whether he stays or not, that US-led war will continue. How likely is a democratic government to further support the US war, given that the majority of voters oppose the US presence in Pakistan?

Sharif: I had a good relationship with former President Bill Clinton without offering him any guarantees. I don’t need to offer Mr. Bush any either. We will fight others' battles only if we are ideologically committed ourselves. But the US and all foreign powers should note: If you continue to support one individual, you will alienate 160 million Pakistanis thirsting for democracy.

Interview conducted by Padma Rao.


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