The Musharraf conundrum


Former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and president Pervez Musharraf’s case has become a hot potato for all concerned. After the Special Court trying him on treason charges passed the buck for the removal of his name from the Exit Control List (ECL) to the executive, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif consulted his senior ministers and the armed forces on the issue. Reports say most PML-N ministers appeared to be against letting Musharraf fly to the Gulf to attend to his ailing mother, fearing the government would lay itself open to charges of a ‘deal’. Certainly if Khwaja Asif and Khwaja Saad Rafique’s public take on the matter is referred to, it would appear as though the government speaks with one voice in rejecting Musharraf’s request. However, appearances can sometimes be deceptive. ‘Deals’ are the staple of Pakistan’s political menu, especially if the mother of all deals to allow Nawaz Sharif to go into exile in Saudi Arabia after he had been convicted by a kangaroo court is kept in mind. If Musharraf’s expectation was that the government, and particularly the prime minister, would return the favour, he would be disappointed by the interior ministry’s rejection of his request, citing serious cases ongoing against him in the courts. It appears by now that both the executive and the judiciary are reluctant to grasp the nettle, preferring to play ‘football’ or ‘ping-pong’ with the difficult decision by throwing the ball into each other’s court. Reports say Musharraf’s legal team would now approach the Supreme Court (SC) and possibly the Sindh High Court on the issue. Meantime habitual petitioner Shahid Orakzai has been his usual quick-off-the-mark self by moving the SC against any attempt to let a treason accused leave the country. Reports and speculations regarding the intervention of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in the conundrum point to our Arab friends’ inordinate influence on Pakistan’s internal affairs, as well as the clout they enjoy with the present (and past) dispensations. The sum total of these speculations, flying in the face of the general run of reportage and opinion that Musharraf may not be allowed to leave and have to face the music, is that Pakistan will ultimately bend to these external actors’ desire to see Musharraf go. The only basis for such a move would be humanitarian considerations regarding his ailing mother, with the possibility of a presidential pardon thrown in if the judiciary refuses to play ball.
Perceptive observers regard the indictment of a former military dictator on treason charges for the first time in Pakistan’s military interventions-afflicted history as no less than a historic development. However, extreme scepticism follows whether the matter will go any further than the moral victory over the once all-powerful dictator and the message it sends from a transforming Pakistan to future military adventurers. It should not be forgotten that the resignation of General Jahangir Karamat as COAS under the last Nawaz Sharif government may well have produced the reaction from the armed forces when the next COAS, Musharraf, was dismissed by the prime minister. It is needless to point to what followed: a military coup that followed the pattern of a shelf life of almost 10 years, the track record benchmark for military dispensations in our history. The military, unhappy reportedly at Musharraf’s insistence on returning to the country despite his parent institution’s advice to stay away, nevertheless might find it difficult to swallow the further humiliation of its former chief, including the prospect, if the trial is allowed to run its course, of a possible death sentence or life imprisonment. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would surely not be unmindful of the lessons learnt from his last attempt/s to assert civilian supremacy over the armed forces. This time round, a more pragmatic assessment of the limits of civilian assertion may be the underlying wisdom informing his actions. The collateral advantage for Nawaz Sharif would be that he would emerge from the bruising episode in the colours of a reformed statesman keeping the interests of the country uppermost, rather than a vindictive politician bent upon burying the ghosts of the past.  *

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