Musharraf’s return

Musharraf’s return

president Pervez MusharrafAddressing a rally in Karachi of his All Pakistan Muslim League via video link from Dubai, former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf announced that he would be returning to Pakistan between January 27 and 30 despite threats and court cases.

He said he would face the cases against him and stand for election from Chitral. He indirectly, without naming him, blamed his bête noir Nawaz Sharif for joining hands with extremists in Balochistan to hatch conspiracies against him. He then went on to list the achievements of his period in power, including better economic management and raising the prestige of Pakistanis internationally.The fly in the ointment for the aspiring politician Musharraf is that the federal interior minister Rehman Malik thinks he could be arrested on arrival, while the Sindh government has categorically announced he would be arrested the moment he sets foot on Pakistani soil.

Those seeking his arrest are, from within the PPP government, those who (belatedly) accuse him of involvement in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and from Balochistan, the heirs of Nawab Akbar Bugti, who seek his arraignment on charges of murdering the Nawab. What is interesting in the change of fortunes of the former military ruler is the fact that under a military-guaranteed deal, he was allowed to leave office and Pakistan without a hair on his head being touched. Times change, and for none more than former military dictators out of power. However, the original ‘guarantor’s’ attitude to these ominous portents as far as Musharraf is concerned is still unknown, although it could easily feed into the already strained civil-military relationship because of the memo case.

So long as he was master of all he surveyed, Musharraf may have had detractors, but today his attempt to make a foray into the swamp of Pakistani politics may invite more than gentle criticism. A quick survey of Musharraf’s policies and performance in power may be salutary. On coming to power through a military coup in 1999, the General was privileged by the Supreme Court with not just validation of his takeover, but gratuitously with the power to amend the constitution, both patently illegal and unconstitutional favours. In 2001, he arranged manipulated local bodies elections in military rulers’ traditional penchant in our history to thereby create a grassroots base of support for himself. The 2002 rigged general elections and presidential referendum followed to sprinkle salt on the wounds of the country.

Between 2001 and his eventual departure in 2008, his ‘tight buddy’ President George Bush showered his regime with largesse that defied logic or accountability, thereby allowing the military dictator to boast even now of the ‘successes’ of his regime’s economic management. That economic ‘prosperity’ was eventually exposed for the bubble it was. Many of the country’s problems inherited from Musharraf’s years continue, and arguably have been worsened by the incumbent government’s inept handling, the example of the energy crunch being sufficient to make the point. Musharraf ‘repaid’ Bush’s largesse by framing the dual policy of moving against al Qaeda and supporting the Afghan Taliban, a duality that persists to date.

The foundations for the current standoff with the Americans was therefore laid in Musharraf’s years by, on the one hand, making too many secret concessions to the US to operate in Pakistan, and on the other, double dealing Washington. The chickens of this foundation have by now come home to roost and threaten Pakistan with increasing international isolation. Musharraf ‘repaid’ his debt to the superior judiciary that had legitimised his illegal rule by emasculating the institution in an unprecedented ‘decapitation’. This however, proved the last straw for even those who had (mistakenly) supported him initially and the lawyers’ movement proved the last nail in his political coffin.

The serious charges of extra-judicial assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti and involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate Benazir Bhutto could do more than political damage to Musharraf’s ambitions. They could land him in serious trouble. Wiser counsel would be for him to forget about returning, let alone plunging into Pakistan’s political vortex and instead continuing to bask abroad in the lifestyle he has been enjoying since leaving power. But knowing the General’s high opinion of himself, this is unlikely to happen. End January could turn out more interesting than even the most hardened observer may have imagined. – Dailytimes