Sharif says the supreme court verdict in his favour
marks a gradual return to democracy
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's former prime minister, says he will return from exile to Pakistan in order to contest upcoming elections, after the supreme court ruled he could re-enter the country.

The supreme court handed down the ruling on Thursday, which is being seen as a direct challenge to the eight-year military rule of Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president.

Sharif spoke excusively to Al Jazeera's Dalal Azar in London, where he currently lives.

Mr Sharif, can I get your reaction to today's verdict of the supreme court?

That's a very good development - I think we are gradually marching on the road to democracy. The judgment which came a few weeks earlier for the reinstatement of the chief justice was very encouraging for people who are struggling for the restoration of democracy.

Now of course, Musharraf's government has been saying that you can still be tried for  allegations against you involving corruption and terrorism - how do you respond to that?

What else can a dictator do? Of course, he has no leg to stand on, he has no legal sanctity to the position that he's holding.

But he has the loyalty of the military. It's going to be quite hard for you to navigate around it if he decides to make trouble for you.

I don't want to make any comments on the loyalty of the military, whether it is there or not, because he's doing unconstitutional things. He's a desperate man and, therefore, the army as an institution belongs to the nation, not to one man.

The exiled former leader says Musharraf's
allegations against him are baseless [AFP]
So, I think, Mr Musharraf should now pave the way for a real democracy in Pakistan. We do not want 'uniformed democracy' any more because it has done greater harm than good to the country.

In terms of your own party, it was split at the time you were sent into exile - how do you plan to regroup?

There is no split. A few individuals have crossed over and they now want to come back. We will not accept them.

President Musharraf enjoys a lot of backing from the United States. Are you concerned that when you go back to Pakistan to lead your party, you will actually be up against not just Musharraf but also the political muscle of the States?

I don't believe in any reliance on an outside force. I think we should be looking up to the people of Pakistan. We should draw strength from them and not any external force. I believe in that because I am a believer in democracy. We should leave it to the people of Pakistan to decide their future.

What are the implications of today's verdict on other leaders in exile such as former prime minister Benazir Bhutto? Will she be going back as well?

I don't know, I haven't spoken to her and I don't know what her programme is or her plans are. I can only talk about my own plans. I want to go back to Pakistan and after this judgment, I am looking forward to my return to Pakistan. But, of course, I have to consult the party as to when I should go back [and] when is the best time.

When do you think the best time might be?

Let the party take that decision.

Source: Al Jazeera