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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 20, Dated May 24, 2008
exclusive interview

ĎThe window will not remain open for very longí

It took all of six weeks for despair to set in once again. After eight long years of martial rule, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif joined hands to give rise to the hope that democracy will finally have its day. But the fragile PPP-PML(N) coalition is already tottering and Sharif has pulled out his ministers from the government. Is Zardari reneging on his pledge to restore the judiciary and cut President Pervez Musharrafís extra-constitutional powers? Nawaz Sharif answers this question and more in an interview with HARINDER BAWEJA, soon after withdrawing from the government

Honouring the Murree declaration was the first test. Do you think the coalition government has failed the test since the judiciary has not been restored?
You think we have failed? I wouldnít use that expression but it is definitely a setback to the democratic process. I felt very strongly ó and still feel very strongly ó that we should stay together but staying in the coalition when the judges have not been restored would have had far greater implications.

Do you still have hope?
Various rounds of talks in Islamabad, Dubai and London all ended in deadlock. I did my best. I left no stone unturned but sometimes you donít achieve what you want. It is no doubt a setback but our decision to still support the coalition and to be their partners in Parliament, if not in the Cabinet, is because we donít want to rock the boat. We donít want to destabilise the democratic process which we have worked hard at restoring.

But Mr Zardari has rocked the boat?
You might have been patient, but what about your partner? We should have implemented the Murree declaration. It was a simple declaration which clearly spelt out that the judges will be restored in 30 days, that they would be restored through a simple resolution in Parliament. Both of us signed it and we should have implemented it.

So why didnít he? What is the reason he gave you?
You should ask them. It is not appropriate for me to sp
eak on their behalf.

Tell me, are you feeling personally let down by Mr Zardari?
( Laughs) You are asking very difficult questions. I hope that we will overcome this situation and he will not allow it to get worse.

In an interview with you in Lahore only a fortnight ago, you said you had cautioned Asif Zardari that the coalition is not only about power?
Do you get a feeling now that for the PPP, it is about power? Well, if they want to retain power, if they want to function freely and if they really want to deliver, then they have to come out of the clutches of dictatorship. It is Mr Musharraf who has certain powers, which the prime minister should ordinarily have. He has certain powers which are those of Parliament and I think those powers should be taken away from Mr Musharraf. Of course, we need each other to do that. We need to reverse all the actions of Mr Musharraf in the last eight years, all the constitutional amendments need to be reversed too. This is the fundamental issue that we need to address and I am still willing to support Mr Zardari on these issues because they have a direct link with democracy in Pakistan. We cannot afford to strengthen the hands of a dictator who has all the time been trying to hatch conspiracies ever since the election results were announced. He is still behaving like a military dictator and not a President. We both have the powers and the ability and the opportunity to strip Mr Musharra

Do you think Musharraf has something to do with the Murree declaration not being honoured?
Heíll be the happiest man if we break apart, if both of us fall apart. To some extent, he is breathing easier.

I refer again to the interview in Lahore where you said sparing Musharraf will be a fatal mistake. Do you think that exercise has begun?
It is in the interest of Mr Zardari himself and his government to get rid of this man as quickly as possible because if he stays on, he will create problems not only for us but more for the Peoples Party and for Mr Zardari. He is a man who enjoyed absolute power and got used to it and he feels today that he is handicapped, that he doesnít have the sweeping powers he enjoyed for the last eight years. I donít think he is a man who can co-exist with anyone or reconcile with the changing circumstances.

Mr Zardari agrees with you vis-a-vis Musharraf. He also agreed to the restoration of the judiciary but it seems to be a case of him paying lip service?
That is our national obligation. It is our commitment to the people of Pakistan and I feel duty-bound to honour that commitment. I think we must not wriggle out of this commitment. I will never do that. I will fulfil my national obligation. The judges have been treated very badly, they have been thrown out of office by a dictator without any constitutional validity or law. We cannot accept this as a civilised nation and we have to stand up to this dictatorial attitude.

The electoral mandate was very clear but hope seems to have been crushed once again in Pakistan.
This was an excellent opportunity. The window of opportunity will not remain open for too long. It was an excellent chance for us to say goodbye to dictatorship but you see, unfortunately, a lot of factors come into play.

The PPP and the PML (N) sharing power is like the Congress and the BJP coming together in India. When asked, you said, so do you think this is jhoota pyar?
Do you now feel that the pyar is jhoota? I wonít say that. We are co-existing, we have not decided to sit in the Opposition. We will support each other even though we are not part of the government now and we do respect their (PPPís) mandate.

Is there a fresh deadline by which the judges will be restored?
We havenít fixed any deadline.

Would you say then that it is the beginning of the end of an experiment?
No. No, no, I wonít say that. We are still hoping that we will at least be able to say goodbye to dictatorship and restore genuine democracy.

How soon?
If we are sincere, we will achieve that sooner rather than later. What did US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher say to you in London? Did he try and dissuade you from pulling out of the coalition? We donít take any outside dictations. America certainly is a good friend of Pakistan and we want to work with them, but we donít take dictations. It is an internal matter and has to be resolved internally and they are not forcing their advice on us.

Let me repeat my question. You have to be feeling personally let down by Zardari, even it is by a small degree?
I am a bit dismayed and disappointed. I think this was a thing worth doing and if we had done that, it would have restored democracy and acted as a shield against the dictatorial attitudes of Mr Musharraf. A lot of matters would have been taken care of. We should have ensured the judiciaryís independence because it is for the first time that the judiciary has stood up against a dictator and refused to take oath under his constitution. That judiciary needs to be respected and restored with dignity. I remain firm in my commitment.

The Indian foreign minister is coming to Pakistan next week. Do you see any forward movement in the peace dialogue given all the political uncertainty now?
I am looking forward to the visit. On this issue of India-Pakistan relations, Zardari and I are together. We have no problem and we will move forward and both sides feel similarly. You know my views on building a better relationship with India. We are committed. I want to abolish the visa regime in both countries. I think if you donít do it on a reciprocal basis, we might do it unilaterally. Both leaderships should now be looking forward to talking to each other. And this window of opportunity has opened once again and we should make use of it, seize the opportunity and simply clinch all the issues. Frankly, itís not easy but if we have that political will, we can make progress.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 20, Dated May 24, 2008

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