Pakistan's Sharif blasts Musharraf over US

Other News Materials 24 December 2007 16:34 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Former Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif, back from exile for next month's parliamentary elections, blasted President Pervez Musharraf as a failed leader largely under US control.

With just two weeks to go in what has been a bitter campaign, Sharif told around 3,000 supporters that he had ignored five phone calls from then US president Bill Clinton after Pakistan tested an atom bomb in 1998.

"But Musharraf prostrates himself after just one phone from Washington," he said -- an apparent reference to Musharraf's decision to join the US "war on terror" after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

"We have become a laughing stock all over the world," said Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister by Musharraf, his army chief at the time, in a 1999 coup.

Pakistan had been one of only three countries to recognise the hardline militant Taliban as the legitimate government in neighbouring Afghanistan, which sheltered Al-Qaeda and its militant training camps.

After September 11, according to many reports, the United States telephoned Musharraf and told him he had to immediately decide whether to cooperate with the "war on terror" and stop backing the Taliban. He did so.

Musharraf has since become a pivotal US ally in the fight against Islamic militants, who are waging an increasingly violent insurgency in Pakistan.

There have been more than 40 suicide attacks in the country this year. A suicide bombing on Friday killed 56 people but missed the target -- Musharraf's former interior minister, who oversaw a crackdown on radical militants.

Sharif, speaking at a rally in the southern city of Sukkur, said the campaign had failed and left the country "soaked in blood and fire".

The two-time former premier is banned from standing in the election due to a criminal conviction but his party remains a potent political force.

The parliamentary election is on January 8. Sharif and the other main opposition leader Benazir Bhutto have charged that Musharraf is planning to rig the vote.