by Hamid Abbasi
Pakistan is less than a month away from one of its most narrowly contested general elections, scheduled for May 11, 2013. It’s the election fever which should have gripped a country on the eve of elections, but somehow out of the blue all gossips and rumors have been overcome by the unprecedented arrest and trial of former General/ President/ Dictator, Pervez Musharaf (PM). The hype surrounding his trial is genuine, as the timing and circumstances are far from just a coincidence.
For a recall, it’s the same General who took over the reign in Oct 1999 from the then elected Premier, Sharif in a soft military coup. There were many internal and external factors which lead to this coup. Internally, an air of suspicion surrounded the Premier after a badly concluded war in Kargil with neighboring India. Externally, Pakistan going nuclear in response to India in May 1998 had irked many in Washington, London and so on and the Premier was placed under red line.
Also in Afghanistan, Sharif has drawn the wrath for bringing peace and harmony through supporting Taliban, which saw their peak from 1996-2000, roughly the same period. In all, a sheer drama in one night including Musharaf sacking as army chief and replacement by a new general, his flight barred from landing in Pakistan etc unfolded with Musharaf established as the undisputed ruler of a nuclear capable nation of 180 million. The democracy was packed, Sharif charged with hijacking (Which as per law can be punished with death) and once again military under Musharaf took over the affairs of Pakistan.
The US, Common Wealth and so on were locked in a moral obligation toward giving their opinion on a transition which was neither legitimate nor noble. 9/11 brought Musharaf to limelight, and made him something irresistible for the West. In the face of “War on terror” with the world running in all direction following the shadows of Bin Laden or Taliban, it was clear that Pakistan holds the key to any combine and meaningful response from America and its allies. In hectic back channel and covert developments, Pakistan under Musharaf jumped into “War on Terror” with the role of front man.
It was Musharaf who throughout 2001-6 captured the center stage, going hand in hand with Bush Jr against Al Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was hailed as a friend to civilization, a savior against the terror world and above all, a vital non NATO ally. Logically, internally he was the play maker in all affairs. He could mould the constitution, agree on verbal terms of engagement with NATO, head a democratic government (2002 though tainted) while in uniform and so on. The masses followed him as economy was booming; Pakistan was on the center stage of world affairs and so on. Musharaf never drew criticism internally for corruption, but his ruthless use of power against all and sundry was definitely something well known.
All seemed to be gearing to the right direction until US and its allies started getting minced in the treacherous terrain of Afghanistan. The mounting causalities, drain of resources and growing restlessness among citizen’ turned the tide on Pakistan and Musharaf himself. The “Do More” dilemma caught center stage, with suspicion on Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan getting explicit. Internally, Musharaf was facing backlash from the religious as well as liberal forces to some extent for multiple reasons. His unconditional support to the crackdown on Islamic fighters in Afghanistan also rolled the strategic stance on Kashmir, which was very dear to the entire nation. The atrocities committed against Pakistani citizens in Afghanistan through warlords like Dostum had reached the masses, who felt betrayed. The internal crackdown on Jehadi/ political parties created an air of misperception and suspicions eroding his support and grip over the state affairs. But above all, US tilt toward India through flexibility in Afghanistan and strategic nuclear partnership revoked his pride of being a revolutionary toward Pakistan’s international stance. Toward his decline (2007-Oct 2008) Musharaf entangled himself in a barrage of follies, starting from his sacking of country’s supreme judge, the Red Mosque siege, killing of most prominent Balouchi leader Akbar Bugti, declaration of state of emergency and so on. Above all, the long feared nightmare of every Pakistani also unearthed with Musharaf launching all out operation against his own tribal belt, engaging armed forces in a long and costly battle against their own people.
The MASTERS are very good in writing scripts for their representatives in the 3rd world. In 2008 after realizing that Musharaf is losing grip, courtesy American interests, the second script was introduced with a wave of exile leadership emerging on Pakistan’s political spectrum. The infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was orchestrated between him and the former PM Benazir Bhutto. The ordinance, against all norms of morality and human rights, waived of thousands of cases in process against Pakistani politicians from prominent parties (Excluding Nawaz Sharif).
This paved the way for her return though it was crystal clear that with her legacy, it will be next to impossible to develop a democratic reign parallel to the dictatorship of Musharaf on top. With mounting pressure his foe Nawaz also returned to Pakistan, through the good offices of Saudi royal family. The return of top leadership signaled that it is sooner than later an end to Musharaf days in power. Unfortunately, in the midst of election fever Benazir was assassinated which changed the entire orientation. It is still a million dollar question regarding the beneficiary out of her assassination.
The elections of 2008 (Feb) carried public verdict with Musharaf allies hardly securing a quarter of total votes casted, paving way for a Zardari-Nawaz allied government. The settlement of Musharaf through guaranteer (MASTERS) secured him a graceful exit on the eve of his impeachment and with allies locked over his future, he silently bid farewell to the land and left on a self proclaimed exile.
His re-entry is highly questionable and one feels that it might is the 3rd section of the prevailing drama. His successor Asif Zardari in a democratic way has ruined the very foundation of Pakistan, which were undoubtedly trembling when Musharaf left power. The 5 year reign of Zardari has seen no state policy on terrorism which has till date claimed 40,000+ lives across Pakistan. A sovereignty up for sale with regular drone strikes and all out operations like the one against Bin Laden. The economy has come to a halt due to negligence, rampant corruption and mismanagement. The country is facing its worst energy crisis which has closed down nearly half of the industrial units and unemployment and inflation have surpassed all previously defined levels.
Toward elections in 2013, Nawaz led PML-N and cricketer turned politician Imran Khan have come out to be the logical and strongest contender for the central government. As per latest survey’s, the ruling party’s vote bank has shrunk to all time low, with Nawaz Sharif leading from the front till date. It seems that this orientation is at the center of Musharaf perceived miscalculated return to Pakistan, knowing well that the judiciary, targeted by him and famous among common Pakistani, will leave no stone unturned if given a chance to trial him.
In Pakistan, the military has reigned the country more than the democratic establishment, still Musharaf has been the 1st to stand trial. His trial by a caretaker setup whose mandate was to hold free and fair elections is beyond a doubt a surprise. Zardari vote bank in ancestral Sindh was severely damaged for not bringing his wife assassins to task. Musharaf arrest at this vital time could work in the same way as Bin Laden video footage did for Bush Jr in his second term. Also, his trial is a test of military establishment of Pakistan, whom after Musharaf have claimed a public policy of alienating themselves from politics.
Though it might stand true, trial of a former general who has been a president as well will definitely test their patience. I say this because against all expectations, the politicians who have been proved as corrupt for looting billions of dollars in the past 5 years have been awarded clean chit to run for election, with only Musharaf standing out as the exception. In this case, a chaos can lead to the only feared factor, an unprecedented delay to the elections in Pakistan. Musharaf trial in true spirit can lead him to capital punishment, which is then on president discretion to pardon or execute.
The MASTERS were his mentors and guaranteer, and it is to be seen how guaranteer assist their buddy. There is a lot at stake, if Mush goes down fighting without guaranteer fulfilling their commitments, I am certain that in future they will have to answer a lot of questions and perceptions before claiming another friend in the 3rd world (Slave).
That’s how the things have been, interest not friends that prevail.