- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2000

LONDON Nawaz Sharif, the deposed and jailed prime minister of Pakistan, accused the West of collaborating in the overthrow of democracy in his country and insisted in an exclusive interview that he is not receiving a fair trial.

Mr. Sharif made his first public comments since the October coup by smuggling out written answers to questions given to him by an intermediary in his cell at Karachi fort in Pakistan.

"I am extremely disappointed that the preachers of democracy in the Western world are acquiescing in the one-man dictatorial rule. They are indirectly supporting the destruction of democracy in Pakistan," said Mr. Sharif.

Mr. Sharif, who was arrested after the coup along with every male member of his family except for one son who was in London, said the military has "been trying to break my spirit."

"I was kept in solitary confinement for over 38 days, and my son, who is not a politician, has been kept in solitary for a longer period," he wrote.

The former prime minister spoke out as the prosecution wrapped up its case in his trial for hijacking, abduction, attempted murder and terrorism.

He is accused to having tried to prevent a plane carrying Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the army chief who led the coup, and 200 passengers from landing in Pakistan when it had only seven minutes of fuel left. It was that incident that provoked the coup.

Mr. Sharif rejected the accusation, saying: "I am totally and absolutely innocent. The charge that I attempted to crash the plane is one of the basest lies that I can imagine."

During the past month, witnesses including the director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority have testified that Mr. Sharif ordered that the plane not be allowed to land, that the lights be turned off at Karachi airport and the runway blocked.

If convicted, Mr. Sharif could face the death penalty. But he said that his confidence has been boosted by the refusal of six Supreme Court judges, including the chief justice, to take an oath of allegiance to a provisional constitutional order drawn up by the military to replace the suspended constitution.

"I know that the people of Pakistan are aware that this is a trumped-up charge," he said. "I have faith in God and confidence in the judiciary."

He said there had been no public outcry over his overthrow because his Muslim League party did not want to antagonize the military.

"We have passed very strict instructions to our party workers that they must avoid confrontation with the army, as this may cause irreparable damage to the security of Pakistan."

He added that many party workers had been detained. "More than 250 people were arrested in Karachi, and thousands were held in various police stations humiliated, tortured and then released without charge."

Mr. Sharif claimed he did not regret trying to fire Gen. Musharraf while the army chief was in midair.

"My decision was taken in the best interests of the country," he said. "It was also to avoid a possible rift within the army, an institution dear to all Pakistanis."

Mr. Sharif said he was dismayed by the increasing international acceptance of the Musharraf regime. "How can any civilized country or democratically elected government accept an illegal and unconstitutionally military takeover?" he asked.

"The United States is keeping Gen. Musharraf's regime engaged due to our nuclear capabilities. They mistrust military control over nuclear weapons and are scared that his temperament may lead South Asia to nuclear war."

But he argued, "Democracy has weak roots in Pakistan, and it needed to be nurtured with the help of its friends."

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