SPIEGEL: Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and your political adversary, has been assassinated. You cried at the sight of her dead body in the Rawalpindi general hospital last Thursday. The two of you weren't on especially friendly terms though, were you?
Opposition politician Nawaz Sharif rushed to the hospital when he heard that Benazir Bhutto had been injured. She was dead by the time he arrived.Foto: AFP
Nawaz Sharif: There is no doubt we were political rivals but we had a lot in common. She too was twice elected prime minister of this country as I was. We both spent long years in overseas exile. Indeed, that is where we managed to bury the bitterness of the past and forge a new relationship. Together we signed a Charter for Democracy: our joint struggle against Pervez Musharrafs dictatorship was also to restore the constitution and law and order in Pakistan. Since then, we have been in constant touch with each other. Last Thursday, we were even campaigning in the same city, Rawalpindi. When I heard she was injured, I suspended my campaign and rushed to the hospital. Too late -- she was dead.
SPIEGEL: Who killed her ?
Sharif: You should ask Mr. Pervez Musharraf this question. My Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) does not recognize someone who grabbed power through a military coup as the legal president of Pakistan. We have been demanding that he step down. Be that as it may, it is Musharraf who is in charge and therefore responsible for all that is happening in Pakistan today. Think of the riots that erupted on Thursday after Bhuttos assassination. Everybody in this country holds him and his policies responsible for the murder.
SPIEGEL: Are you implying that Pervez Musharraf may have had a stake in Bhuttos death? Why? Reportedly at Washingtons insistence, he did, after all, strike a deal with Bhutto. He dropped long-standing corruption charges against her and envisioned her as future prime minister -- in exchange for a guarantee that he would remain president.
Sharif : Let me say this again: Ms. Bhuttos assassination was a direct result of, an act of retaliation to Mr. Musharrafs policies. Shots were fired even at my election rally in Rawalpindi that same day. Four people were killed.
SPIEGEL: Al-Qaida has reportedly claimed responsibility for Bhuttos assassination. The Islamist fundamentalists of al-Qaida along with the Taliban are active along Pakistans border with Afghanistan. They dont want democracy in Pakistan -- most certainly not under a woman favored by Washington.
Sharif: I cannot comment on that. An independent commission will have to be set up to investigate Ms. Bhuttos murder. But of course such a commission can only be appointed by a democratically-elected, neutral government, not by Mr. Musharraf. Even if Musharraf does hold an inquiry, nobody will believe a single word of its findings.
SPIEGEL: Did relations between you and Ms. Bhutto change when you both returned to Pakistan last month and commenced your respective election campaigns?
Sharif: Ms. Bhutto was always very charming and nice -- she was like my own sister. December 25 -- just two days before she was killed -- was my birthday. I was travelling, but she sent me a bouquet of flowers and even called to greet me over the phone. We decided to meet again soon.
SPIEGEL: This in spite of her agreement with Musharraf?
SHARIF: There is no doubt about the fact that Ms. Bhutto, too, was struggling for the restoration of democracy. Being a true democrat, she would never have strengthened the hands of a dictator such as Musharraf. Yes, she did make some new decisions for herself even after we signed our charter for democracy. But I always trusted her.
SPIEGEL: Bhuttos assassination leaves you the only potential candidate for the post of prime minister. You have a clear political advantage but expectations too will have risen dramatically.
SHARIF: In any case, I cant think that far ahead right now. At the moment -- and even among the members of my Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) -- all that prevails is grief. The entire nation is very disturbed. Ms. Bhuttos assassination is nothing less than a catastrophe, an unbelievable tragedy. I am in close contact with members of her PPP as well. Together, we will take the struggle against Musharrafs dictatorship forward.
SPIEGEL: Isnt the fight against Islamic terrorism -- which has given Pakistan such a bad international reputation -- equally urgent ?
SHARIF: That will come up later. We must first restore democracy. Musharraf knew very well that both Bhutto and I were being targeted when we began our election campaigns. He should have stopped her from campaigning in Rawalpindi last Thursday, or at least ensured adequate security. But he didnt. He is a complete failure.
Interview conducted by Padma Rao