Former Pakistani PM back after seven year abscence

Derek Thurber

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In a highly controversial move, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan after a seven-year exile to challenge the government under General Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf lead a military, but bloodless, coup d’etat against Sharif and took power on Oct. 12, 1999, in the wake of the coup. His first action in power was to exile Sharif for 10 years. The supreme court of Pakistan recently ruled that it was legal for Sharif to return after only seven years in exile.

Musharraf’s government has been under harsh criticism for the past several years for many reasons. Musharraf declared when he was reelected into the office of president that he would end corruption in Pakistan.

If anything, he has done the opposite.

Especially in the last year, the corruption has reached unusually high amounts, even by Pakistani standards. In 2006, the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Pakistan at 142, placing it only 22 spots from the final entry. By comparison in 2001 Pakistan was ranked 79 on the same index, meaning Pakistan dropped 63 places in five years.
This is what has led to Sharif’s move to return to Pakistan three years early. His goal is to challenge the government under Musharraf and rally the people’s support against him. His task has been made easy by the corruption under Musharraf.

In a joint poll, done by CNN-IBN, Indian Express and Dawn News, the majority of Pakistan’s people believe that corruption has increased under Musharraf. According to an International Republican Institute survey, as of August 2007 64 percent of the population of Pakistan does
not want to see another term granted to Musharraf.

Musharraf did not meet Sharif’s return kindly. Within hours of Sharif’s arrival in Pakistan last Monday, Sept. 10, 2007, he was arrested and deported back to Saudi Arabia, where he has served the majority of his exile.

Musharraf took police action to prevent Sharif’s supporters from meeting Sharif at the airport. In the chaos of the moment, the police fired several shots into the crowd. It is reported that several people were hurt, but there are no reported deaths. This move has caused outrage at Musharraf, who is already facing low popularity.

The implications of this may have a global effect. Because of the outrage this has caused, there may be a change in power soon in Pakistan, but nothing is certain.

The supporters of Sharif are contesting the legality of Sharif’s deportation with the supreme court. The supreme court is likely to rule in favor of Sharif.

There has been tension between the supreme court and Musharraf since Musharraf tried to sack the top judge on the supreme court.

Benazir Bhutto, also a former prime minister of Pakistan, has said she will return to Pakistan on Oct. 18 after a self-imposed exile. Bhutto exiled herself after being charged for corruption. The charges are likely false.

Bhutto has been trying unsuccessfully for some time to reach a power-sharing deal with Musharraf.

“Pakistan is a military dictatorship, led by a sitting chief of army staff,” Bhutto told BBC radio.
She is intending to offer opposition to this government, just as Sharif is. Bhutto is trying a more democratic route than Sharif, which has met much less opposition than Sharif’s stance.
“The ball is now in General Musharraf’s court. If he wants to hold fair, free and impartial elections, I think he really needs to do a deal with the opposition,” she said.

Bhutto is also working off the advantage of not being barred from reentering the country. Pakistani officials have said that Bhutto will be allowed to return but will have to face corruption charges in court.

“I’m not worried about these false charges,” she said in response to these remarks.
It will be interesting to see what comes of these oppositions to the current government under Musharraf. It is likely that there will be radical change in Pakistan in the next few years, which will affect the entire world.

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