It is unusual for military men to be tried for their crimes. General Pervez Musharraf is unlucky in this respect when he decided to return to Pakistan last March. Who advised him to do so? While on trial for the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and possible charges of treason, his chances of being imprisoned much less hanged are considered very low.
It is highly ironic that the once all-powerful general, Pervez Musharraf, finds himself being hauled before an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Rawalpindi on murder charges. The retired general faces three charges related to the December 27, 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto after she had finished addressing a rally of party faithful in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi.
“He was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation for murder,” Agence France-Presse reported public prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar as saying on August 20. “The charges were read out to him in the court. He denied the charges,” said Azhar, whose predecessor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali was gunned down on May 3 as he headed to court to present the next report of his findings. Six others were charged along with Musharraf, including four suspected militants and two senior police officials. The other accused in the case are former City Police Officer (CPO) of Rawalpindi Saud Aziz, the then superintendent of police Khurram Shahzad, Abdul Rasheed, Rafaqat Hussain, Sher Zaman and Hasnain Gul.
There are numerous ironies in Musharraf’s indictment. The court is located not far from where he once resided as Chief of Staff of the army, the most powerful post of the most powerful institution in Pakistan. Rawalpindi is also the General Headquarters of the army, where generals, brigadiers, colonels and lesser rank military men strut about in smart uniforms bedecked with medals won in never-fought battles. For Musharraf there are two other ironies. One is the fact that he is the first general, albeit retired, who has been hauled before a court of law in Pakistan. Second, Musharraf is a great admirer of Turkey, or more precisely Kemalism, the secular ideology that once reigned supreme in Anatolia. A few weeks earlier, General Ilker Basbug, the former chief of Turkey’s army was given a life sentence for plotting a coup in what came to be called the “Ergenekon plot.”
True, another general, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt only recently overthrew an elected government but that will bring little comfort to Musharraf as he faces constant humiliation of being hauled before a court of law in a land where friends disappear like shadows in the dark. Unlike many other accused before him, Musharraf has been given the privilege to live in his palatial home at Chak Shahzad outside Islamabad that has been turned into a sub-jail. He is also not handcuffed when brought to court. A former military dictator, General Zia ul-Haq was not so considerate toward Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto when the latter was charged with murder in 1978 and eventually hanged on April 4, 1979. Bhutto, a former prime minister overthrown by Zia in a military coup, was incarcerated at Kot Lakhpat Jail and was always brought to court in handcuffs.
Whether Musharraf would be convicted in Benazir’s murder case is difficult to tell at this stage but even if found not guilty, he faces a series of other charges. The brutal murder of the Baluch Sardar, Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 as well as Musharraf’s suspension of the Constitution in November 2007, which is tantamount to treason, are very serious indeed. Both have had extremely negative consequences for Pakistan.
There is a full blown insurgency underway in Baluchistan as a direct result of Bugti’s murder. The so-called Baluchistan government-in-exile is based in Israel while the Baluchistan Liberation Army together with myriad Taliban groups have caused havoc in the province targeting innocent civilians especially belonging to the Hazara community as well as security personnel. The mayhem in Baluchistan has also provided an opportunity for Pakistan’s enemies and their intelligence agencies to destabilize not only the province but also the country. It is no longer a secret that such intelligence agencies as the CIA, MI6, Mossad and RAW (of India) are actively instigating chaos and terror in Baluchistan.
The treason charge about which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has spoken several times is equally serious. Sharif was overthrown in a military coup that Musharraf and his generals carried out in October 1999. After several years in jail, Nawaz was allowed to leave the country at the behest of the Saudis to spend the rest of his life in exile in the desert kingdom but things started to change after Musharraf gave up his post as army chief in early 2008. Once he was deprived of his power base, he became vulnerable and was forced to resign even as president in August 2008. From then on, life became a downward spiral for Musharraf.
His travails confirm once again that power flows from the barrel of the gun but even this may be changing in Pakistan as it has in Turkey. Once retired from the army, Musharraf was powerless although it would be wrong to assume that the military would accept his humiliation since it is a matter of more than an individual; it has to do with the privileged position of an institution, the military, in Pakistan’s hierarchical society. The military, or the army, is all powerful and packs a big punch. There are reports of unease among some members of the armed forces at the manner in which Musharraf is being mistreated. While the military top brass has not said anything publicly, it cannot be ruled out that privately they have conveyed their displeasure to the politicians. The civilian leadership would ignore such displeasure at its own risk.
Many observers in Pakistan feel that while Musharraf is being dragged through the courts, nothing will eventually come of it. The more serious question everyone is asking is who advised him to return to Pakistan. Equally important is how easily Musharraf fell for these assurances. He was told he would be welcomed by millions of people. When he returned to Pakistan last March after living in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London since late 2008, there were not even a few hundred people at Karachi airport to receive him. He was kept waiting in the arrival lounge for several hours until a few hundred people were hurriedly assembled outside to “welcome” him.
Once in Pakistan, Musharraf was trapped. He had been declared a bail absconder by a court and had to appear before it to have this charge withdrawn. This was the beginning of his troubles. He was disqualified from running in last May’s general elections. The decision to run for parliament was a big mistake. He had served as president of the country for nine years; for him to now sit in parliament and face the catcalls of other parliamentarians would have been even more humiliating. The Election Commission rescued him from this unwise decision by turning down his application to run. His chances of winning were, in any case, slim.
Not many people believe that Musharraf would be convicted of any of the offences he is charged with. The best thing going for him is that he is a spent political force and poses no threat to any politician. Had it been otherwise, he would be in big trouble and many more politicians would be out to get him. While nothing is certain in Pakistan, the chances of his being convicted or sent to jail look slim. Besides, the military would not be amused if one of their own were humiliated in such a manner. It may carry unintended consequences for the political class.