Fighting Extremism with Democracy in Pakistan
International Current Events, News & World Affairs
Editorial Cartoon by Dana Summers
AN INTERVIEW WITH Nawaz Sharif
Pakistan opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is seen by many -- including, reportedly, officials in the Obama administration -- as the man who can possibly help unite Pakistanis against the scourge of Talebanization threatening the South Asian nuclear-armed nation.
In this interview with Faheem Al-Hamid, managing editor of Saudi Arabia's Okaz newspaper, conducted in Islamabad, Sharif says that national consensus on strengthening the rule of law, as demonstrated by the success of his "long march" last March 15 that forced the government of President Asif Ali Zardari to reinstate the Supreme Court judges sacked by former president Pervez Musharraf, must be part of a multi-pronged strategy to address the root causes of Taliban extremism.
"I had sent a letter to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to convene a conference of all the stakeholders," Sharif said. "His response was positive, but the conference is still awaited."
Q: How do you view the situation in Pakistan, particularly the Talibanization that is taking place?
Sharif: First of all, I denounce the militancy and extremism in the society.
The entire nation is united on strengthening the rule of law in this country and of the firm opinion that nobody can dictate terms at gunpoint.
The Talibanization is a consequence of the eight years of dictator's rule that had to depend on foreign support. When I was the prime minister, there were no suicide bombers in the country, which was a completely peaceful area. We never heard about Talibanization here.
This problem of extremism can be addressed through national consensus. "We do not want anybody to be killed. We want a multi-pronged strategy. I see hidden hands.
Q: How do see Saudi Arabia's role in helping bring about peace in Pakistan?
Sharif: Saudi Arabia has been a solid friend of Pakistan. This country is grateful for the diplomatic -- and solid -- support of King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
Whenever Pakistan faced difficulties, Saudi Arabia came forward and helped, with genuine concern. We are lucky to have such a great friend.
Q: Your successful "long march" on March 15, 2009, which resulted in the reinstatement of the judges sacked by former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has given you huge public support. Your party, the PML-N, is now in a strong position. What now?
Sharif: The people have shown the strength of democracy, and this cause has benefited nobody in particular, but this country.
With an independent judiciary, everybody is the beneficiary. It was for the first time in Pakistan that we have seen such resolve of the people.
Everybody has faced the dictator, but on March 15, the people stood up as one against the immoral steps of Musharraf. The people have shown a great amount of confidence in democracy.
Q: In your view, how should the current problems facing Pakistan be addressed and resolved?
Sharif: I had sent a letter to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to convene a conference of all the stakeholders. His response was positive, but the conference is still awaited. We could have convened the meeting ourselves, but we do not want to derive any political mileage out of this situation. The government should concentrate on socioeconomic development, provide employment and the basic amenities of life. The sense of deprivation in the society must be addressed. We want to see democracy delivering.
Q: Has the Pakistan People's Party (of President Asif Ali Zardari) fulfilled its promises made in the Charter of Democracy?
Sharif: No, the PPP has not fulfilled its promises made in that Charter of Democracy signed between the PML-N and the late Benazir Bhutto. The PPP has pledged to repeal the 17th amendment in the Constitution, made by Pervez Musharraf.
Despite that, we are cooperating and supporting the government. We want to be a responsible opposition and do not want to create problems for the government, but we earnestly feel that the amendments made to the Constitution by all the dictators must go.
This is in the interest of the nation.
Q: Are you seeking an important position in government, on a power-sharing basis?
Sharif: I am not seeking any office. My first priority is to rid the country of the problems it is facing today. The government should understand that sincerity is the best policy.
Mr. Zardari got us disqualified by using the kangaroo courts and governor's rule was imposed in the Punjab where PML(N) was in power. Despite all this, I am supporting the government in the national interest.
Q: What is your view of the military today in Pakistan?
Sharif: The military has shown maturity by not interfering during the long march.
They have gone by the law and the Constitution.
Whenever the military has seized power, the country was plunged into a mess. All those responsible for subverting the Constitution -- during the various periods of martial law in Pakistan -- have done what is not acceptable in any civilized society.
Musharraf did an injustice to this country by killing (Baluchistan leader) Nawab Akbar Bugti and joining hands with the MQM (Muttahida Qaudi Movement).
After the killing of 48 people in Karachi in 2007, he flexed his muscles and said this was peoples' power!
(c) 2009 GLOBAL VIEWPOINT NETWORK; (TM) TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
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