Poetic justice Pakistani style
Pertinently, not only did Pakistan's Election Commission deny Musharraf the opportunity to contest the general election scheduled next month but his...
Pertinently, not only did Pakistan's Election Commission deny Musharraf the opportunity to contest the general election scheduled next month but his dubious past caught up with himA in the form of judicial proceedings initiated against him, ironically by the same institution he had challenged while in power Shreya Upadhyay
Former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf's homecoming sprang no surprises. True to the volatility and uncertainty which has been the hallmark of Pakistani politics over the years, Musharraf landed in a bigger soup than he had faced while in exile. Expecting a hero's welcome, the former self-styled CEO saw that none of the thousands who followed him on social networking websites came to welcome him. Neither did his subsequent arrest trigger any chagrin in a country which is witness to its first civilian government completing a full five-year term in office. Pertinently, not only did Pakistan's Election Commission deny Musharraf the opportunity to contest the general election scheduled next month but his dubious past caught up with him in the form of judicial proceedings initiated against him, ironically by the same institution he had challenged while in power. Now lodged in his lavish villa in Islamabad as a State prisoner, Musharraf must have understood the logic of poetic justice! The former Chief of Pakistani Army was issued an arrest warrant by the Supreme Court, wherein the Chief Justice was the most effective catalyst in him being thrown out of power. Remember, Musharraf's entry on the political stage was no less dramatic when he seized control in a coup in 1999 and sent then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif packing to Saudi Arabia. He ruled Pakistan as a self-styled Chief Executive --- a post unheard of in Pakistan's power corridors --- and later as President in 2001. He spent nearly a decade in power and tampered with the Constitution. But it was his decision to dismiss the Supreme Court's Chief Justice and several other judges that led to the beginning of massive civil unrest against his rule which eventually brought him down. Paradoxically, now that he is back from exile, Musharraf might have to see the man whom he deposed as Pakistan Prime Minister returning to power and presiding over his trial. Nawaz Sharif, according to national and international polls, is all set to return to power in Pakistan which cannot be good news for Musharraf. It is again a quirk of fate for the retired General that the man who picked him for the top Army post ahead of several senior Generals and whom he ditched to take over the reins of power, is now the favourite to win the elections that he wanted to become a part of. Questionably, why did Musharraf return to Pakistan, that too when the Taliban threatened to assassinate him and criminal charges awaited him? As it stands, Pakistan is facing a plethora of problems: Crumbling economy, political uncertainty, corruption, food shortage, power cuts and Islamic fundamentalism. Yet, with the Government completing its full five-year term it has kindled new hopes. Against this backdrop, support for Musharraf had already started to wane in 2007. Thus, to accept that the self-styled CEO's homecoming was part of a grand political strategy does not sit well. Pakistani media feel that Musharraf miscalculated the mood of the country and his legal options before deciding to return home. Interestingly, his applications for all four constituencies were rejected by judicial officials overseeing part of the election process. Later, the Court cancelled his bail and ordered arrest. Reportedly, he has also been accused of treason for his decision to suspend the Constitution and impose Emergency which amounts to terrorism. Thus, the case is now being heard before an anti-terrorism Court which is closed to the media and the public. Notably, the other legal challenges facing him include allegations that he failed to protect the life of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He is also accused of ordering the killing of popular tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in volatile Baluchistan in 2006. In his defence, Musharraf has maintained that these charges are "trumped up, politicised cases". Nonetheless, his arrest is a significant act in a country where senior Army officers have long been calling the shots. The Army is still considered the most powerful institution in Pakistan, retaining enormous behind-the-scene influences. It is also a fact that the arrest is sure to irk some in the military who see the Armed Forces as the only guarantor of Pakistan's stability. But it seems that the Army is deliberately unwilling to take up any role in the turn of events. According to media reports, a month before his return a formal message was delivered to Musharraf from the Army advising him not to return to Pakistan. But he ignored the advice. Perhaps he misread the ground situation, assuming the institution he once headed would shield him from the trial. In fact, while the Army has provided him full security in his lavish villa which has been declared a sub-jail, it has till date shied from interfering in judicial matters, notably due to the fact that the judiciary is emboldened today. The Supreme Court has increasingly taken strong positions, which some view as safeguard against the un-Constitutional acts of the government and political leaders. The court ordered the sacking of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and took on Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf and other senior Government officials in corruption cases. Thus, there is hope that a strong and unbiased judiciary will serve as a good check on political corruption and excesses. Consequently, Musharraf, whose only calling card is the Army, has bleak hope of surviving in Pakistan's new politics. During his self-exile, differences emerged within the former Army Chief's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML). Today several supporters have left the party. Moreover, in the wake of his exit from the electoral race, his political ambitions are almost over. It has been rumoured that he returned to muddy the political waters ahead of elections in an attempt to dampen the chances of Sharif's PML (N). All in all, Musharraf's return has added to the many pre-poll complications that the country is facing, including Tahir-ul-Qadri's popular activism January last. Technically speaking, maybe the Government should be acting to enforce court orders. But the main role of the caretaker set-up is to conduct elections. Getting embroiled in matters such as the Musharraf affair would hamper it. But beyond that Musharraf's presence or absence from Pakistani politics is unlikely to have any serious impact on upcoming elections. � INFA