Muhammed Nawaz Sharif was clearly disoriented and depressed as he stepped into the courtroom on Friday afternoon. For a moment, he seemed on the verge of breaking down in tears -- his eyes were moist. "Where should I sit?" he asked one of his lawyers. He was shown a chair in the back.
When the formal proceedings began, Judge Rehman Husain Jafri asked Sharif if he had been tortured by the police. Sharif replied: "I was in solitary confinement for the last 38 days. In these days I never encountered any policemen." However, he said he had been interrogated by officials from other government agencies. Jafri: The scope [of this trial] is quite limited. Police say you were arrested at 12:05 a.m. on Nov. 19.
Sharif: No, I was in solitary confinement for the last 38 days.
Jafri: That is a different subject. You can tell this when the actual trial will begin. This is not linked.
Sharif: Sir, I think it is linked.
Jafri: Were you tortured in custody?
Sharif: They did not beat me. But there are other things. If asked, I will tell you. Except torture they did everything.
Jafri: Do you know the charges?
Sharif: I have no idea what the charges are.
The judge read the charges--of treason, hijacking a commercial airliner and endangering the lives of 200 passengers.
Sharif: This is the first time I am hearing this.
After this exchange, the judge heard from lawyers for the defense and the prosecution. During this period, I managed to ask Sharif a few questions. Seeing me take notes, security in the courtroom signaled me to get out, but they didn't approach me for fear of interrupting the trial.
TIME: Did you order the hijacking?
Sharif: You hijack a plane with a gun. It is the democratically elected government which has been hijacked. It is the democracy which has been hijacked. Parliament has been hijacked. It is the 140 million people who have been hijacked. Who says plane was hijacked? There was no hijacking.
TIME: So what happened on Oct. 12? Did you sack army chief Pervez Musharraf?
Sharif: The coming moments will unfold everything. You will know soon what actually happened on that day. The thing which has to be found out is whether it was the coup which came first or the orders to the aircraft.
TIME: Do you expect justice and a fair trial?
Sharif: It will soon be clear. Everything will be in front of you.
TIME: Do you fear the military regime will hang you, as they did in the case of Zulfikar Bhutto?
Sharif: Let's see. I have left everything in the hands of God.
TIME: Where have you been since the coup?
Sharif: They kept shifting me to different places. I was kept in small rooms. Dingy rooms. I can't explain it to you in words. Seeing is believing. There was no mineral water. Each time I had to request them to fetch me mineral water. The supply of running water in the room was erratic. I was kept away from TV and newspapers. I had telephonic conversation with my family only twice. I don't know what is happening to them. I was totally in the dark.
TIME: What was the attitude of your captors toward you?
Sharif: It varied place to place. Each time you face different people. And they treat you in a different manner.
TIME: How long do you think this will continue?
Sharif: Let's see.
After hearing from lawyers on both sides, Judge Jafri handed Sharif over to police custody for interrogation till Nov. 22. He was taken away in an armored personnel carrier to an unknown destination. Sharif had been in court about 40 minutes.
Postscript: On Saturday, security officials didn't allow newsmen anywhere near the court--we were even barred from standing on the main road outside.