Pakistan's One-Man Calamity

By Nawaz Sharif
Saturday, November 17, 2007

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- My country is in flames. There is no constitution. Judges have been sacked on a whim and arrested, political leaders locked up, television stations taken off the air. Human rights activists, lawyers and other members of civil society are bearing the brunt of a crackdown by a brutal regime. Extremism has assumed enormous and grave proportions.

All of this is the doing of one man: Pervez Musharraf. He first struck at the core of democracy on Oct. 12, 1999, when he dismissed my government at gunpoint. My government was chosen by the people of Pakistan in free and fair elections. But Musharraf so feared my popularity that he banished me from the country and won't allow me to return. After Pakistan's Supreme Court declared this year that I have a right to return, I flew into Islamabad in September. But Musharraf brazenly refused me admittance to my own country.

On Nov. 3, Musharraf struck again at democracy. He abrogated the constitution and declared a state of emergency. For Musharraf, the constitution is nothing but a piece of paper that can be crumpled and discarded. After the Supreme Court stood up to him early this year and attempted to restore the fundamental rights of the people, he dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. Stung by the successful civil society movement that led to Chaudhry's reinstatement, Musharraf acted quickly after suspending the rule of law. The Supreme Court was considering Musharraf's eligibility to be elected president despite being the army chief, but before the court could rule, Musharraf dismissed the entire judiciary.

These are the wages of dictatorship. Democracy holds the key to resolving Pakistan's problems. Musharraf hopes that other nations will prefer his despotism to the anarchy he claims would erupt were he to leave office. This is a lie that America and other Western nations should not accept. Tyranny is never a substitute for freedom, and there is no substitute for democracy.

Musharraf's self-serving contention that a free vote would result in extremists coming to power is utterly flawed and intended to frighten the West. First, the people of

Pakistan should have the chance to elect people they trust. My party, the Pakistan Muslim League, and Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party enjoy tremendous support across the country. Both of these parties are more progressive and forward-looking than the general's ineffective autocracy.

Second, were there to be free and impartial elections, the world would see the rise of moderates in Pakistan. We are a moderate country. It is dictatorship that is fueling extremism. Return to the people their right to vote in free elections, and you will see the results. Musharraf and his men have turned their backs on freedom and put their lust for power over the good of the nation.

They are hoping that a state of

emergency will continue their control and are ignoring the fundamental damage to


America has always been a friend of Pakistan. It is our strategic and natural ally. I remember the good relationship I shared with President Bill Clinton during my term in office. When Musharraf's misadventures in Kargil in 1999 brought us close to nuclear confrontation with India, I, in close consultation with Clinton, defused the situation. I remember President Clinton saying: "The world should thank Nawaz Sharif for averting a nuclear conflict between Pakistan and India."

Clinton refused to shake hands or be photographed with Musharraf when he visited Pakistan in 2000. People took that as a gesture from a friend who wished Pakistan well. By refusing to associate with a dictator, President Clinton essentially won the hearts of the Pakistani people. That was the policy that should have been pursued. That is the policy that should be pursued now. America should not alienate 160 million

Pakistanis by supporting a dictator who prefers rifles to reason.

America must support the Pakistani nation -- not a single individual. America must also support the democratic process in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan are waiting for the powerful voice of America to be heard clearly by the enemies of freedom. The generals must go back to the barracks. The judiciary should be reinstated as it stood before the proclamation of emergency. There is no other way forward.

We are struggling for the restoration of genuine democracy in Pakistan. Our jails should be filled with criminals and law-breakers, not politicians and law-abiding lawyers. The army of Pakistan should be defending the liberty of the people at the direction of elected, civilian leaders, not usurping power and creating a police state. Musharraf is the problem, and he should quit -- both as army chief and as president.

Nawaz Sharif was twice elected prime minister of Pakistan. He is living in exile in Saudi Arabia.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company