Text of Nawaz Sharif’s interview with Geo News-Part I

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RAWALPINDI: Following is the transcript of exclusive interview of Nawaz Sharif with Geo News:

Hamid Mir (HM): In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful. Hamid Mir and Sohail Warraich are with you today. We are going to talk to a personality round whom the politics of Pakistan revolves nowadays. He is not a part of the government but people have started asserting that the government of Asif Zardari is surviving only because of him. I think you must have got the hint. I am talking about Mian Nawaz Sharif. Many questions are being raised and much is being written about him nowadays. We intend to talk precisely about the questions being discussed in political and cultural quarters. We will endeavour to ask him whether he has become lenient towards the incumbent government because of Saudi Arabia or because of United States; whether instead of an individual he is trying to save the system. We will try to find the reality as well as the agenda of his politics.

Well Mr Nawaz Sharif we are thankful to you for this meeting. My first question is about your person and not about your politics. Your Raiwind farmhouse where we are sitting at the moment is indeed very beautiful. May Allah bless you with more means to build more such farmhouses. However many of your critics say that Nawaz Sharif has so much wealth, he possesses such a huge farmhouse, he has big properties abroad too, but it is surprising that the income tax he pays is only Rs5,000. How would you comment?

NS (Nawaz Sharif): Thank you Mir Sahib. It seems that you have also been carried away by the wave (of criticism). This farmhouse was built prior to our exile and it remained in possession of Mr Musharraf for a long time. Moreover our house in Model Town was taken over by him and handed it over to the government. Similar treatment was meted out to our factories. There may be some families that might have plundered the country and the nation, but I can say with certitude that our family was not involved in politics. We were engaged in setting up industry. Ours is the family that has been looted by different governments. My father set up first factory in 1937 which by the grace of Allah continued to grow and came to be a big industry. It was nationalized by Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when he came into power and not even a single penny was paid by way of compensation. The entire family was penniless. Those were the days when the war of 1971 in East Pakistan had just ended. You, and perhaps even most of the viewers will be unaware of the fact that one of our factories was located in (former) East Pakistan. That too was gone and we did not get even a single penny of that factory. When our industry in Pakistan was nationalized we were absolutely penniless. Then we come to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto era. Since we were in opposite political camps obviously she left no stone unturned to harm us. We suffered a loss of Rs700 million in the MV Jonathan episode. Then we come to the martial law of Mr Musharraf. He sealed all that remained of our factories. He simply closed down everything, sent us behind the bars and exiled us. There is no need to go into details, as you know everything. A bogus case of plane hijacking was instituted against me. Musharraf got all my movable and immovable properties confiscated by way of fine. This beats my imagination Mir Sahib and I fail to see any logic behind the act of filing bogus cases against an elected prime minister and confiscate all his property in Pakistan. You see and tell how much we have paid in taxes? We have paid billions of rupees as income tax, excise duty and sales tax.

HM: So you did not pay (only) five thousand rupees.

NS: That is what I am trying to establish. You give ear to whatever they (critics) say whereas the reality is different. TV says one thing and the newspapers another. Please do not think of me as an individual; I am linked with all things. The assets I am talking about, by the grace of Almighty Allah, are family assets. In 1997, after mulling over the subject, I had decided that whosoever wants to join politics must resign from their business interests. We resigned, and only an appropriate portion was left as our share. This was done because personally I was convinced that politics and business must be separated. Now let us come to the sugar mill. It is jointly owned by me with Shahbaz Sharif. When we were in exile we paid to the government a sum of Rs6 billion as income tax, excise duty, and sales tax. If we had not paid the taxes, I or Shahbaz Sahib would have pocketed the same or someone else would have got it. It would not have gone in the government coffers. Thus our tax is what has been paid by our family or company, and Rs6 billion is a pretty huge amount, that is six hundred crore rupees. We paid taxes even when we were in Jeddah in exile. So these are the facts. Now I ask a question. Who will compensate us? No one has talked about our factory worth billions that was nationalized. Nobody ever said, ‘alright we grabbed your factory worth billions of rupees; you accept only one tenth of its worth. I talked about the loss of 60-70 crore we suffered in the MV Jonathan episode, and no one has ever talked about this loss. We could have asked for compensation for this loss of Rs70 crore from my own government when I was prime minister. This would have provided grist to the rumours mill and there would have been comments that we have taken such a huge amount out of the national exchequer. Then someone has to be responsible for grabbing our hard earned money too.

SOHAIL WARRAICH (SW): Then why are the assets quoted, the assets submitted to the Election Commission?

NS: I would declare the assets as mine only those that belong to me. Even these were grabbed by Musharraf. I am of the view that this should not happen in politics. This is too much. I am enormously pained to think of the treatment meted out to us. We are bundled off to Saudi Arabia. Then they say that I have set up a factory in Saudi Arabia. What do they think? Should I have begged in Jeddah with a bowl in my hand ? Should my father too had done the same? Should we have sought loans to make our both ends meet? We were sent into exile against our will. We had not gone there of our own sweet will. What if I struggled to earn a living? Nobody allowed us to return.

SW: Now we come to politics. The point hotly discussed nowadays is that there is some leniency in your attitude (and your supporters also say). Perhaps they think that there is some expediency involved. Do you feel any such thing?

NS: Look, things should not be naram (soft) or garam (hot/hard). They should rather be firm. If you believe in something, have a conviction, you must be firm. If it is a principle, and you stick to it firmly, there will be no question of being soft or hard. I believe that there was a time when we had a hard attitude. Politicians all were tough. I must tell you one thing: when there have been issues before us, when the interest of Pakistan was involved, we never compromised on principles. Let me give you an example. There was the question of reinstatement of judges. When the government did not reinstate them, we came out on the roads putting our safety and lives to grave danger. Can you call it leniency or softness? We never lagged behind on such occasions. You know me as everybody knows me. I received calls from Richard Holbrooke, from Hillary Clinton, and also from David Miliband warning me of severe danger to my life and cautioning to be extra careful. I declared that the stakes are high and even if I have to lay down my life, I would never mind. Anything could have happened during that long march rally. The enemy could do anything which could have proved fatal. Did we make any compromise or ask for an NRO at that time? When you view the scenario against the background that at that time our government in Punjab had been ended and I was disqualified, I could have gone direct to Islamabad in spite of the fact that judges had been restored. I could have continued the long march up to Islamabad and declared that we would not call off the long march till our government in Punjab is restored and my disqualification is not withdrawn by the Dogar court. But this was not the issue of an individual. It was the question of integrity of the country. Was that leniency that I showed? I ask those who talk of leniency or softness in my attitude to tell me where did I show leniency. We have never compromised on issues. We never compromised when the interest of Pakistan is at stake.

SW: Mian Sahib, there are three theories in circulation. One: you want to save the system. Two: Saudi Arabia has recommended you to act (soft). Three: US has advised you. Which of the three is correct in your view?

NS: You know that I do not like to be advised. By the grace of Allah I do not get dictation. I have not got dictation from anyone within the country or abroad. Saudi Arabia is a very close friend of Pakistan, and its well-wisher. I think it would be appropriate not to drag or involve Saudi Arabia in the politics of Pakistan. The Kingdom has always wished Pakistan well. He is one of the biggest well-wishers of Pakistan. And please tell me where have we changed our stand after getting dictation? Even if for the sake of argument dictation has been taken, where is any change in the stance?

SW: They say that in Saudi Arabia recommendation has been made in favour of Pervez Musharraf.

NS: Our stand is the same that was one year, or two years ago and no change has taken place in that. I mean that if we still do politics of expediency, it would mean that we have learnt no lesson from the past.

HM: You have spoke well that ‘neither soft nor hard but firm’. Some are of the opinion that President Zardari is also very ‘firm’. He displays lot of firmness in pulling the wool over your eyes. And you are equally firm in being cheated again and again.

NS: I get cheated and do not cheat.

HM: Majority of your party men requested you not to go to meet Mr Zardari again. They said that he needs you and will use you again. In spite of that you went to meet him. It was their need and not yours. Now please explain what is your objective now? Are you supporting Mr Zardari or the system?

NS: Yes I met Asif Zardari Sahib and I feel that there is no harm in meeting political leaders for the sake of democracy in Pakistan. There is no harm to keep your doors open. Zardari Sahib is not our enemy, or not my enemy.

HM: What about Musharraf?

NS: Musharraf is not. Musharraf had come to power illegally and unconstitutionally. As for the meeting with (Mr Zardari) is concerned we discussed things that could be in Pakistan’s interest and such talks should be held. Only recently Zardari Sahib called me while I was in the Northern Areas, i.e. Gilgit-Baltistan. I received his call at Hunza. He said, “Nawaz Sharif Sahib we want that we should hold another meeting. I said, “Certainly we will meet again. I will call you after I have reached home and deal with the matter. At the moment I am with party men and discussing how the meeting should be held and what should be the agenda. I will talk to you after we have settled the matter.”

HM: You are presently preparing to meet Zardari Sahib. What is the objective of the meeting as some say that the system is in danger because of Zardari Sahib?

NS: Look, democracy in the country has been derailed many a time. It is our endeavour at least to bring it back on the rails and such a joke is not played with the country again and again. And what a horrible joke it is! I have stated earlier many a time that nothing could be more humiliating for a country where the judges are arrested. The country becomes a laughing stock of the whole world. That the parliament is dissolved day in and day out; someone comes and arrests the prime minister at gunpoint and sends him to exile; one prime minister is sent to the gallows; a man like Musharraf who breaks the constitution and acts illegally is given guard of honour, does not bring any good impression for the country. I am of the opinion that this charade must come to an end. That explains why I continue talking with political leaders. For this very purpose we signed the Charter of Democracy with Mohtarma. If this charter had been implemented Zardari Sahib would have been saved from the problems he is facing today. I say this on the basis of my political experience. Look, he could not notch the credit of restoring judges. This feather could not be added to his cap nor could Parliament take credit of the same. We had warned about the NRO but anyway it somehow came in Parliament, or the parliamentary committee. It had to be withdrawn. It would have been better if this withdrawal had taken place earlier. In spite of all that I still say that 17th Amendment should be scrapped and the Constitution be restored to its position of 1999. I say that after that the Charter of Democracy should be implemented. This is a better way of solving the issues.

HM: Will you say all this to Zardari Sahib?

NS: Yes of course. People grumble that the other side is acting contrary to what you ask them to do. They say that I want to save democracy whereas the other side is trying to further weaken it. This is exactly I would tell Zardari Sahib and urge him not to delay matters any more.

HM: When do you meet?

NS: Soon. I will ask Zardari Sahib not to waste time now and wrap up the matter to come out of the pressure you are in.

HM: Do you think he has little time at his disposal?

NS: I think that if what I say is not done, he would be more under pressure. If he acts upon my advice pressures on him would come down.

SW: Mian Sahib, you earned credit on the NRO issue. You had said that NRO should not be brought in the National assembly and that is what happened exactly and they had to withdraw it. But while advising him against NRO you must be aware that President Zardari and many others had become eligible only through NRO. Did you tell them any way out or was it a political gimmick?

NS: No gimmick. I do not know how to hoodwink people.

SW: Then what is the way out for them?

NS: Look, we should not be afraid of facing courts. If one has a clean slate, he should not fear any court. If one does not have a clean slate then what can Nawaz Sharif do. Nevertheless I am convinced that to bring NRO in Parliament would bring a bad name to the Parliament.

SW: A very big issue being discussed in the press nowadays is judicial activism. NRO has become redundant. Even the president may not get immunity under Article 248. Are you prepared for such an eventuality? You must have taken a decision whether you would stand by him, be against him, respect the court judgment?

NS: This is a court matter. It has multifaceted legal and constitutional complexities. I cannot say anything. Only the court can decide the matter. I think that the court is independent and in my view the president has the immunity and I think that the courts would decide the matter keeping in view the immunity.

HM: Do you think that in spite of this immunity he is in danger?

NS: I cannot say.

HM: Do you see the system in danger?

NS: I think that if there is a danger to the system through undemocratic means, I will certainly be a hurdle in the way.

SW: Even if it is judiciary?

NS: No I do not think so, particularly the judiciary which has confronted a dictator. There is no doubt that previously judiciary had been siding with dictators. It was first time on March 9, 2007 that judiciary looked straight into the eyes of a dictator and refused to toe his line. This is something that should be lauded. The entire nation supported the judiciary. Lawyers, political parties, and we too stood by them. We left no stone unturned for their restoration. That God forbid, the judiciary would indulge in any illegal or unconstitutional act after such a gruelling journey, is unthinkable for me. Another thing you mentioned earlier is indemnity. You said that I showed flexibility on indemnity issue. When indemnity came up, our terms with Zardari Sahib were good although he had not honoured his commitment to restore judges. We took a stand on indemnity. You know that Zardari Sahib asked me that Musharraf may be given indemnity. If we had accepted the proposal Mir Sahib, it would have meant that the judgment of November 3 would also have been legalized and PCO judges too would have been covered by law thus all roads to restoration of real judiciary would have been blocked.

To be concluded

Courtesy: The News International

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