Islamabad, Pakistan — Nawaz Sharif, head of a powerful Pakistani political party that wants to oust embattled President Pervez Musharraf, vowed to return quickly after the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the former prime minister can come back from exile.
It was yet another setback for Musharraf, and Sharif immediately turned up the heat in a growing public clamor for an end to military rule by calling on Washington to support Pakistan as a country - not just the general.
"It should not equate Pakistan with Musharraf," Sharif told The Associated Press at his London residence. "It is being perceived America is supporting one man against 160 million people in Pakistan."
Musharraf has been struggling in his effort to get another presidential term, seeing his attempt earlier this year to fire the Supreme Court's chief judge touch off widespread rallies calling for democracy and then having the court reinstate the justice.
The military leader also is facing intense pressure, and disenchantment, from Washington, which is pushing for Pakistan to crack down on Islamic extremists battling NATO troops in Afghanistan.
A return by Sharif, a fierce critic of Musharraf, the man who deposed him as prime minister in a bloodless coup eight years ago, will further complicate life for the president, analysts said.
Underlining the general's recent setbacks, the Sharif ruling was announced by Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the Supreme Court chief justice who Musharraf tried to fire.
Sharif and Benazir Bhutto - another banished former premier with strong popular support planning a comeback - insist Musharraf must let them compete in year-end parliamentary elections if the vote is to be considered democratic.