The number of cases against General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, former ‘lord and master’ of Pakistan, keep growing by the day. Already he is involved in cases relating to possible treason, murder and illegal detention of judges. The one case that nobody wants to bring up is the case with which it all started in 1999. The reason why that case is off limits is well known though everybody seems to focus on what happened in 2007. It seems as if what happened in 1999 when Musharraf illegally dismissed a sitting democratic government, declared an emergency and suspended the constitution was of no consequence.
As I started writing this column the Internet was flooded with reports that Nelson Mandela was dead, which turned out to be untrue. Still, Mandela will not be with us for very long. So as I wrestled with the Mandela news and my thoughts about the Musharraf situation, I kept thinking back to the time six or so years ago when the ‘ill-fated’ National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was being discussed. At that time, many columnists and people in the opinion business kept bringing up the Mandela legacy in South Africa, where on assuming the presidency he refused to go after ‘his enemies’. Instead the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ was formed to look at what had happened in the past. Of course, there was no such attempt on the part of the Pakistani politicians or the military-supported government for such an initiative.
As far as the present problems of Musharraf are concerned, he has the misfortune of having two of the most powerful people in Pakistan, the Prime Minister (PM) and the Chief Justice (CJ) particularly upset at the way they were personally treated in the past by him. The third person with power to influence the course of this wave of cases against Musharraf is the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). But the COAS has decided to stay neutral at least in public. The one question that hovers in the background is why Musharraf decided to return to Pakistan when he did. Was he given bad advice or did he judge the ‘situation’ to be more favourable to him than it was, based upon some idiosyncratic assessment?
This is still an evolving situation and after all, it is highly unlikely that a previous COAS and President of Pakistan will be convicted and hanged for treason. Personally, I don’t believe that the country has any appetite for a prolonged case against Musharraf that ends in his hanging. Also, if Musharraf goes down, he will take many others down with him. The historical reality is that the apex court, many politicians and most of the bureaucracy have, by and large, supported every autocrat in power starting with Ghulam Muhammad and the Maulvi Tamizuddin case in 1955.
So the question then facing PM Mian Nawaz Sharif is whether he should proceed with a case against Musharraf starting with the 1999 military coup that might draw a lot of people into it, including members of the senior judiciary or just restrict it to what happened in 2007. Honesty demands that if Musharraf has to be tried he should be tried for what he did in 1999 onwards. But that would probably cast a rather wide and extremely uncomfortable net. What happened in 2007 except for the dismissal of members of the judiciary was entirely farcical. Essentially Musharraf carried out a coup against his own government!
The other option for the PM is to follow the example set by Mandela and establish a real ‘Truth and Reconciliation Committee’ that looks into what went on in Pakistani politics over the last 20 years, including the Kargil fiasco and the Asghar Khan case, recently adjudicated by the Supreme Court (SC) but strangely absent from any further mention. If, however, any cases against the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and its governments are still left unexplored, the SC is already on it full force. Essentially, if only Musharraf and the PPP are tried for all sorts of ‘stuff’ then it would seem more like a case of victimisation rather than a search for justice.
How PM Sharif handles this situation will tell us a lot about him as a person and his much vaunted maturation as a politician. At this time the new government is facing such severe problems that the Musharraf situation will act as a diversion and possibly decrease the ability of the government to pursue its immediate goals. The best option at this time is to put the Musharraf case on a slow track, concentrate on the energy crisis and the rapidly diminishing foreign currency reserves. Anyway, with so many cases against him Musharraf will be kept busy travelling from court to court like Asif Zardari a decade ago.
Also, the PM should remember that if his government does not fix some of the immediate problems facing the country, especially concerning ‘load shedding’, and if at the same time Musharraf is being paraded from court to court, ordinary people just might start remembering that things were comparatively not so bad under Musharraf. And possibly there might also be a rise in support for him among the rank and file of the army on seeing a former chief being humiliated by politicians and the courts. Perhaps that was Musharraf’s strategy all along and he is after all not as devoid of ‘wisdom’ as he is being made out to be by his detractors.
An interesting news item suggested that some court ordered Musharraf and others to demolish their homes, which include the house Musharraf is presently incarcerated in after it was declared a ‘sub-jail’. If he follows these orders and demolishes his ‘jail house’ would that then be a jail break? And if he doesn’t pull his own house down would he then also be disobeying the court? Either way he could face another case against him. Curiouser and curiouser.
The writer has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org