By Nasim Zehra
April 3, 2014
In March 2013, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf landed in Karachi with the mistaken notion that a bright political future awaited him. Many forewarned him. On the eve of his departure from Dubai, UAE’s foreign minister’s special envoy dissuaded him from leaving. Mian Nawaz Sharif had conveyed to Musharraf through a common UAE friend that once in Pakistan, he would be tried. Army chief General Parvez Kayani also unsuccessfully tried dissuading him.
Musharraf’s arrival proved every bit the nightmare all had dreaded. Politically more aware, Pakistan was not benign towards a former military ruler. Simultaneously, proliferating dialogue platforms prompted questioning beyond Constitutional parameters: aren’t Musharraf’s colleagues in the PPP and now in the PML-N cabinet; why overlook Musharraf’s original sin of the October 1999 coup; the government seeks dialogue with killers of 50,000 Pakistanis, yet pursues Musharraf’s trial.
Although unlike previous military rulers, Musharraf was charge-sheeted under Article 6, appeared in court and kept under house arrest; he was treated with kid gloves. While political leaders with lesser crimes have been jailed, treated as criminals and even hanged, the GHQ eventually appropriated Musharraf and kept him under its protection at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology. The army has since sought a road map for Musharraf’s exit, as have PML-N pragmatists like Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar.
Unsurprisingly, disagreement between PML-N’s pragmatists and political activists has persisted even over trying Musharraf. Echoing the government’s earlier decision, Information Minister Pervez Rashid had said in my programme that “if the government has to choose between stopping a dog from stealing milk or preventing our child from drowning, it would save the child.” He had been asked about the government’s response to the lawyers’ petition filed in the Supreme Court that the government be asked to file treason charges against the former military ruler under Article 6. The minister was clear that we would “politely” state our priorities to the Supreme Court, i.e., not to get entangled with the treason case. But then, the government calculated that trying a former military ruler would boost its democratic credentials.
The Special Court’s March 31 order seems to have set the stage for Musharraf’s departure from Pakistan. After charge-sheeting Musharraf under Article 6 and allowing him to speak in his own defence, the court was adjourned till to April 14. The court order read as a sympathetic interpretation of the law. Charged under Article 6, Musharraf was a free man and the court would also consider his plea for absence from subsequent hearings. On Musharraf’s request to visit his mother in Dubai, the court order stated that removing Musharraf’s name from the ECL was the government’s prerogative.
Despite the court order, the prime minister refused to remove the former military ruler’s name from the ECL in “public interest.” Why take responsibility for what could politically backfire –– must be the thinking prevailing among PML-N activists. Let the court ‘bell the cat’ they must argue, since Musharraf’s team is taking the case to higher courts. PML-N pragmatists, too, must realise that allowing Musharraf to travel abroad on a higher court’s order would be politically risk-free for the government.
It is unlikely that the government will block Musharraf’s legal route to travel abroad. His return, too, would then be the court’s responsibility. If Musharraf leaves on a one-way ticket, the government will have made no compromises in trying a military ruler.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan’s political history, March 31 will go down as a day when an unprecedented accountability of a military ruler was initiated. Avoiding the anarchy and bloodshed of the horrifying Egyptian brand of what is paradoxically called the Arab Spring, accountability of a military ruler has been initiated in the precincts of a court. More importantly, outside the court, the political verdict on the touchstone of democracy has long declared the former general a loser.
Nasim Zehra is a senior anchor at Capital TV and a fellow at Harvard University Asia Centre.