For exiled Sharif, returning home was ‘matter of time’

Those were his days of forced political wilderness and an uncertain future but Nawaz Sharif was confident of his moves and his return to Pakistan. Sharif appeared relaxed and assured when I met him in a small flat in central London in the winter of 2007, coolly guiding his party members in Pakistan on agitational tactics against the then Musharraf regime.

The leader, who is set to lead Pakistan for a third time as prime minister following his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) impressive performance in the elections, was eagerly awaiting a return to his country.

Sharif was bemused to see an Indian journalist walk into his office in London when he was not much written about in India. His staff put up some resistance in letting me through but I was confident that once Sharif would not say no once he knew that an Indian journalist had come to seek an interview.

Sharif got to know about my presence and asked his staff to let me into his room. He agreed to a formal interview at a later date.

During the brief conversation in his office, Sharif asked me about political leaders commanding wide respect in India. The talk veered towards Bollywood and he made a remark about the movies being watched in Pakistan. His phone kept ringing in between and he directed his party activists about the course of action they need to follow on the prevailing situation in the country. His office, manned by his loyalists, was equipped with sophisticated equipment, including a paper-shredder.

Sharif was ousted in a 1999 military coup by former Pakistan Army chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf, and was jailed and exiled. He went to exile in Saudi Arabia and returned to Pakistan in 2007 ahead of elections in 2008.

Sharif arrived on the appointed hour for the interview in a park in central London. He had security escorts but their numbers were not intimidating. We walked together briefly and sat across a table in a restaurant for a question and answer session.

Sharif was forthright about his distrust of Musharraf but was not very bitter. He referred to Musharraf’s regime as ‘dictatorship’ and ‘one-man rule’ and expressed apprehension about the possibility of fair general elections under his watch.

He was also unhappy with the West as he felt it was not doing enough to strengthen democracy in Pakistan despite its loud championing of democracy.

Sharif disclosed during the interview that he was astonished to hear from then US president Bill Clinton during his visit to Washington, during the 1999 Kargil War, that nuclear arsenal was being moved out of the Sargodha air force base station to be used in the conflict.

Sharif said he was not aware of any such move that was against the nuclear policy of Pakistan.

He also reiterated about not being aware of the Kargil intrusion by the Pakistan Army under Musharrraf.

Sharif dwelt on the need of uninterrupted democracy in Pakistan and said dictatorship in his country was responsible for the negative reports about the country, including those in the British media, that many of those then held on terrorism charges had been trained in Pakistan.

He conveyed his determination to return home and said it was only a ‘matter of time’.

Sharif said Pakistan was a country where he was born, grew up, spent his youth, his life and nobody had the authority to keep him away from his country.

Sharif served as Pakistan’s prime minister for two non-consecutive terms from November 1990 to July 1993 and from February 1997 to October 1999. Both governments were dismissed before completing their constitutional term.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at [email protected])

— Indo-Asian News Service


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.