LONDON (Reuters) - Exiled former Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif vowed to fight terrorism “with conviction” if re-elected prime minister and accused military ruler President Pervez Musharraf of deceiving the West over his commitment.
Sharif, who was overthrown by Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999, plans to return to Islamabad next week to challenge the president, who is under pressure from the West to stand down as head of the army before seeking re-election in the coming weeks.
With Musharraf’s term as president and army chief coming to an end, Pakistan -- a nuclear-armed U.S. ally on the front line of the West’s fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban -- faces months of uncertainty.
“When I was prime minister we extended full cooperation to everybody ... We condemn all kinds of terrorism ... and we’ll continue to fight terrorism,” Sharif told Reuters in an interview.
“If you fight this menace, you fight out of conviction. Musharraf needs the threat of terror for his own survival. He is doing something in Pakistan and he is telling something else to the outside world. I think he is hoodwinking the West,” he said.
Analysts say the United States is believed to have doubts about Sharif’s commitment to fighting militancy largely because of his sympathies for Islamist parties.
Sharif, 57, was prime minister for two terms in the 1990s and last month aligned his Pakistan Muslim League with mostly conservative, religious parties to form the All Parties Democratic Movement.
He denied he would consider introducing sharia law -- as he attempted to do in 1991 -- if he were re-elected.
“There are many other priorities today, to put the country back on the rails, on the path of democracy, to fight a decisive battle against dictatorship and terrorism,” he said.
LAWYERS AT AIRPORT
Sharif said he was looking forward to returning to his country after years in exile, despite the threat of arrest by Musharraf’s forces. He said his lawyers would be standing by at the airport on his arrival.
“Mr Musharraf is saying that he’ll arrest me. Under what law, I’ve no idea. Mr Musharraf is trying to threaten me with dire consequences, but I’m not scared,” he said.
“It’s a great feeling going back home but of course the responsibilities are enormous. It was not an easy decision to take. But I have taken that decision ... and I am going to accomplish my duties.”
Sharif said he would still welcome cooperation with rival Benazir Bhutto, despite their falling out over strategy for dealing with Musharraf.
Both former leaders formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy but Bhutto then decided it was better to negotiate with Musharraf and has been trying to agree terms of a power-sharing deal with the president. She has also said she will return to Pakistan after living abroad for the past eight years.
“We are a little dismayed and disappointed at her taking this course,” Sharif said.
“I hope that she comes back and joins hands with the democratic forces in Pakistan. Because the democratic forces of Pakistan today have the support of the entire nation.”
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