Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What is Nawaz Sharif's Strategy?

The man out to oust a President
On Monday Nawaz Sharif will end years of exile and return to Pakistan. He tells The Times what he aims to do once he gets there
From The Times September 4, 2007
Bronwen Maddox, Chief Foreign Commentator

Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, aims to force President Musharraf to step down within the next six weeks.

“His tenure ends on October 15 and he has no constitutional right to remain,” he told The Times yesterday. Mr Sharif, who was deposed by General Musharraf in a military coup in 1999, plans to return from eight years of exile on Monday afternoon, with the intention of blocking the President’s attempt to secure another term, and of forcing new elections.

“Britain has been a good host,” said Mr Sharif at his Mayfair mansion flat, decorated with Pakistan’s national flag and vases of scarlet flowers, and filled with excited aides planning his return. “The Foreign Office has been very supportive of democracy . . . and of free and fair elections.” Mr Sharif added that the encouragement he has drawn from Britain has persisted under Gordon Brown’s premiership.

He has had no contact with the Bush Administration. “President Clinton was a good friend of mine,” he said, “and Bush is a good friend of Mush,” obviously pleased with the derisive pun. He had been in touch with the Clintons during his exile and regretted the antiUS feeling in Pakistan that he said had risen during President Musharraf’s military rule.

On August 23 the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, ruled that Mr Sharif and his family were entitled to return to Pakistan. That has set the stage for the return of the figure who once dominated Pakistan’s politics as leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, the more conservative of the two main parties.

Mr Sharif dismissed speculation that General Musharraf may try to deport him to Saudi Arabia on his arrival in Islamabad, as an outright violation of the decision by the Supreme Court. But he may yet be arrested. Muhammed Ali Durrani, Information Minister, has said that the Government was considering “all legal options if the Sharif family returns”. Mr Sharif said yesterday: “Mr Musharraf has been threatening me with dire consequences. I don’t know what will happen. I am not scared.”

Mr Sharif plans to travel by road to Lahore, his home city, a prospect that he said “tugs at the wires of my heart”. He hopes to forestall any intervention by General Musharraf by a show of huge support – “big, massive rallies”, as he said last week.

He also hopes to prise the President from power by frustrating his plan to get Parliament to reelect him by October 15, a move that Mr Sharif argues is unconstitutional. If Mr Sharif can persuade enough parliamentarians to support him, the plan will fail, he predicts. “I am not alone in this battle”, he said. “The entire nation is with me.”

Except Benazir Bhutto. Mrs Bhutto, also a former Prime Minister, signed a pact with Mr Sharif a year ago to restore democratic rule, but has since been trying – and failing – to strike a deal with General Musharraf. “We embarked together on this new journey to restore the rule of constitutional democracy. But somehow she chose a different path and started talking to a military dictator,” Mr Sharif said.

Mrs Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, has enjoyed the warm backing of the US, who regard her party’s liberal philosophy as a natural bolster for General Musharraf, whose reforms have been left in tatters by battles with religious parties. However, Mrs Bhutto’s links to the US have damaged her standing, as has the collapsing popularity of General Musharraf.

He was damaged most by his attempt to sack the Chief Justice, although those who are optimistic for Pakistan’s future argue that it is a good sign that the biggest protests have been in defence of the independence of the judiciary, not of religious militants.

Mr Sharif said that “I am not looking for any office”, but added that “my primary objective is to put the country back on the rails, and then, if they decide I am worth anything. . .” He left the sentence unfinished, but that is a universally intelligible code from a politician looking for office.

He dodged the question of whether, in office, he would put General Musharraf on trial, saying that he was offering “a message of reconciliation”. He was also careful not to criticise the Army, on whom any successful Pakistani leader depends for support. “I don’t blame all the generals but Mr Musharraf has a small coterie of them who are maybe ‘loyal to the king’,” he said. But he concluded – as he has good reason to know – that “When the chips are down, nobody is loyal to anybody, let me tell you that.”

The strategy

Plan A Rally enough support in parliament to prevent General Musharraf’s reelection. Campaigning must begin on September 15 and end by October 15. Hopes to force him to step down by October 15; Chief of the Senate would then take over as acting president and hold elections for a new parliament, which would then vote in a new president. A majority for the Pakistan Muslim League would leave Mr Sharif in a position to pick the prime minister and possibly the next president

Plan B (if arrested on arrival) “Big, massive rallies” to force General Musharraf to back down

Also See, News story in Times of India: Sharif 'determined' to oust military rule in Pakistan

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