Decline and fall of General Pervez Musharraf
High on his popularity on social media (Facebook 'likes' and Twitter followers) and misled by party workers that Pakistanis wanted him to come back, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf returned to a country he once ruled.
That act of hubris has landed him in the dock for murder. On August 20, Musharraf was indicted by an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi for the December 27, 2007 assassination of two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto. "He was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation of murder," Public Prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar told AFP.
Musharraf's farmhouse in Chak Shahzad on Islamabad's outskirts was declared a sub-jail by the courts. Gossip is, he lives a comfortable life there. He watches TV, reads newspapers, smokes cigars, drinks Scotch every evening and is in touch with the world. Pakistani political prisoners have never seen such luxury.
Time is another luxury the general has. His indictment means a trial will now start, but it may take years to conclude, depending on factors such as the interest of the government, judiciary and the army. While it is unprecedented for a former head of state, especially a former military dictator, to appear in the dock for crimes he may have committed, Musharraf's indictment seems symbolic rather than concrete. Some believe that once Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry retires this December, the Musharraf trial will go cold.
While it remains difficult to prove Musharraf's direct culpability in the murder of Benazir, there is little doubt he played cat and mouse with her security, creating an environment for a high-risk person such as her to be attacked. Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Pakistan, Ali Dayan Hasan, says that between October 18 and December 27, 2007, he was in regular contact with Benazir, who expressed fears for her life and told him that Musharraf was using security, or the lack thereof, as an instrument of political blackmail.
Musharraf believed, and still does, in his self-created myth that he is the only man who can 'save' Pakistan. Some call him delusional, others egomaniacal, but his megalomania cannot hide the bitter reality that he is now in the dock. When he returned from exile on March 24 this year, only a few hundred people, mostly from the media, greeted him at the airport. Sources say he was furious with his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), for not mobilising thousands. Not only were his ambitions to run for Parliament in the 2013 polls thwarted by the courts, each of the three charges he is now facing can give him life imprisonment.
But human rights activist and political analyst Marvi Sirmed believes what Musharraf is going through is little compared to what he had done to Pakistan. "With his double-game in the war on terror, he landed the country in an abysmal mess." Sirmed says while he did dismantle ISI's Afghan wing and 'cleaned' the army of pro-Taliban elements in 2001-02, he kept supporting extremist religious elements throughout his nine-year rule. "His fall was more of a showdown between the mi (Military Intelligence) and ISI of the Pakistan Army," says Sirmed.
Fawad Chaudhry, lawyer and former member of Musharraf's political party, is of the view the case against Musharraf is untenable legally. Fawad represented Musharraf in Benazir's murder case in the past and has gone through the evidence against him. "It is a fact that Mohtarma (Benazir) was assassinated on the orders of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud. The same group was involved in attacks on Musharraf. To say he was collaborating with people who tried to kill him is not plausible." Fawad believes that non-provision of security is an issue across the country and no one can ensure fool-proof security. From a legal point of view, the president is not even responsible for security.
Apart from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, no state functionary in Pakistan has ever been held personally responsible for state decisions that led to the assassination of political leaders. Bhutto was tried and executed in 1979 for a murder committed by the Federal Security Force (FSF) because the FSF head had deposed that Z A Bhutto had ordered the killing of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan Kasuri.
When notable leaders of Benazir's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) were contacted, none was ready to come on record. Unofficially, some of them say PPP will be a party to this trial, but this has not yet been effected into policy. There is no doubt PPP leaders would like to see Benazir's killers punished, but it seems the party is waiting to see how hard the PML-N government pushes the case, how far the courts are willing to go, and what the military eventually does. No one wants to confront the army. The PPP leadership is unwilling to stick their necks out when, in essence, the party did its job by collecting evidence over the last five years, when it was in power. It seems unlikely that PPP will put pressure on the Nawaz Sharif government to pursue this case when it didn't push for it during its own tenure.
During his poll campaign, Sharif had said if he came to power, he would try Musharraf under Article 6 for high treason. Now that he is in power, he can't go back on his words for fear of public backlash. But analysts think that while Sharif believes in tilting the balance in favour of civilians in civil-military relations, he would be unwise to take on the army in Musharraf's case. Both PML-N and the judiciary are well aware of the consequences of stepping on the army's toes. Sharif's government was toppled in 1999 by General Musharraf in a military coup, while Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was deposed by him in 2007.
Many now wonder where the military stands on Musharraf's return, and on the cases being pursued against him. So far, the armed forces have kept quiet on the issue in public, but privately, the military is unhappy. Musharraf's protege and current army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, reportedly asked the ex-dictator's mother to persuade her son to leave Pakistan when he returned. Apart from security threats to Musharraf's life, his return can damage the military's image of non-interference in the political process since Kayani became army chief. There are also whispers that those pursuing the cases are being given a message from some powerful quarters not to cross a line.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari (@BBhuttoZardari) tweeted on August 20: "The night before the chief prosecutor was assassinated, he told someone at the Bar he had enough evidence to hang Mush (Musharraf). The next day, his security was withdrawn by the caretaker set-up and he was assassinated." Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) prosecutor Bilawal referred to, was assassinated in May 2013.
Academic and political commentator Ayesha Siddiqa says that some lawyers who threw stones at Musharraf when he appeared in court a few days before Eid were reportedly abducted and tortured. When the judges were told about it, they did nothing. "It may be that the army is sending a message: Don't cross a line," says Siddiqa. Once submission of evidence starts, Siddiqa does not see anyone indicting Musharraf, as bureaucrats may not give evidence against him.
It is widely believed that Musharraf will be allowed to leave Pakistan, but without any amnesty or written deal. Ironically, Saudi Arabia's ruling family - who interceded with Musharraf to free Sharif in 1999 - is now doing the same with Sharif for Musharraf. A humbling role reversal.
(Originally published in India Today