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Mush in the dock

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For a country that is used to imprison and hang Prime Ministers and Presidents, charging former Pakistan President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf...

For a country that is used to imprison and hang Prime Ministers and Presidents, charging former Pakistan President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf with the 2007 murder of ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is not a surprise. But what’s surprising is the twist of irony that the leader who was sentenced to life in prison after being deposed by the then Army chief Musharaff in 1999 should be the head of the government when an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad charged him with a political crime on Tuesday. It was only a formal accusation read out to him in the presence of his lawyers and the case was adjourned until August 27. No date has been set for his trial.

This is only the beginning of Musharaff’s long legal battle to be followed by some more to clear himself of the omissions and commissions of high offices he had held between 1999 and 2008 before going into years of self-imposed exile, to escape prosecution at home. While Musharaff’s legal team is confident of rebutting the prosecution charges of the former President’s involvement in the assassination of Benazir or his complicity – since there is little evidence to prove either – his lawyers are yet to prepare their defence when two other cases, seizing power and sacking judges in violation of the Constitution in 1999 and imposition of emergency rule in 2007, come up for hearing. Yet, one more is the killing of Baluch rebel leader Nawab Akbar Bugti during a military operation in 2006.

Even if Musharraf is not found guilty in Benazir murder case, it is unlikely that he will escape other serious charges, including treason which is punishable with death.

Nevertheless, until now, the 70-year-old swash-buckling leader has been lucky. He has not been sent to jail; instead he has been put under house arrest in a palatial farm house on the outskirts of the capital with 24X7 security in view of Al Qaeda and local Taliban threats.
In a way, he is more fortunate than other political leaders, both surviving and dead, who had to suffer the ignominy of being imprisoned and, in worst cases, being hanged like the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by the then military strongman Zia-ul-Haq in 1979. How long his luck would last is anybody’s guess with his nemesis Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister. Few doubt his interference in the judiciary which was antagonized and suffered at the hands of Musharaff during his nine-year rule. In other words, there is little sympathy for the man who returned in May last year ending his exile to contest the national elections with an eye on becoming the Prime Minister. His rout in the polls was an indication of how much he is despised by the people.
Musharaff’s folly is to come back home, hoping to return to power as he had strongly believed at that time that the Pakistanis were disillusioned with the Pakistan People’s Party government and fed up with scandals involving President Asif Ali Zardari and his coterie and turn the political tide in favour of him. Sharif’s return to power, surely, has upset his beta noire’s apple cart and landed Musharaff in an intractable situation. His indictment also sends a strong message to the all-powerful military bosses: They are not above law and are subservient to the civilian government. The thought may make them queasy but it is for the Sharif government to show them their place. Otherwise, it may risk a repeat of 1999.
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