Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday credited democracy with turning Pakistan into an atomic power, saying it was an elected prime minister who initiated the country's atomic programme and another elected prime minister who saw it through its final stage.
"We should give credit where it's due: Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto initiated Pakistan's atomic programme," he told a gathering at Lahore's Alhamra Hall. "Who was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto? An elected prime minister. And who conducted the first nuclear tests? Another elected prime minister [Nawaz himself]."
The former prime minister was speaking at an event to commemorate Youm-i-Takbeer, held on May 28, the day when Pakistan conducted its first nuclear tests in 1998.
Sharif said that then United States President Bill Clinton had called "me five times and offered five billion dollars" to abandon the atomic programme.
"I told him, you have misunderstood us," said Sharif. "Our self-respect does not have a price tag."
He compared his 'resistance' to the US pressure to that of former president Pervez Musharraf's, who, Sharif said, "had given up on one phone call".
Sharif recalled that many elements, within the country, were against going ahead with Pakistan's atomic programme fearing international sanctions.
He recalled that he learned about India's nuclear tests during a trip to Kazakhstan, where he was accompanied by Mushahidullah Khan.
"I asked Mushahidullah what should we do? He told me to answer back," Sharif said. "I immediately prepared myself to give a tit for tat response since it was a matter of Pakistan's integrity and security."
Sharif told the crowd that a tunnel had to be built in Chagai — where the tests had to be conducted — that would take a month. A month's wait would be too long, Sharif said and added that he ordered that the tunnel be built within days.
"The tunnel was built in 17 days and as soon as it was completed, we pressed the button and Pakistan became an atomic power," Sharif told his cheering supporters.
"After the tests were conducted, I called Clinton, since he had called me five times to convince me not to go ahead with the nuclear programme," Sharif told the crowd. "I asked him [Clinton] 'are you not an elected president?' He said 'yes I am'. I then said that I am an elected prime minister and I have a responsibility towards my nation." Sharif claimed, adding that Clinton acknowledged his argument and had commended him for "fighting him with a straight back".
The former premier then claimed that Clinton had become his friend after the episode and later had played a "positive role in Kargil". "This is diplomacy," Sharif said.
He regretted that after becoming an atomic power, Pakistan was on its way to becoming an "economic power" but the journey was cut short due to his ouster.
"Is this why I'm being punished? Is this why I have to go to NAB courts every morning?" he asked.
"Today I'm being labelled as a traitor while others become ankhoun kay taarey (darlings). But what do you have to say about the books that are coming out?" he questioned, referring to the recently released book The Spy Chronicles, that is co-authored by former ISI chief Lt Gen Asad Durrani and ex-RAW chief A.S. Dulat.
He urged his supporters to vote PML-N into power in the upcoming general elections.