Marlboro man cometh?


The military’s role would be critical to Musharraf’s fate

Pakistan has no short supply of wannabe saviours even if they come with a $2500 tag for hangers-on in whatever hue on his comeback flight. Following the red hot revolution drama recently enacted by Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, the ‘original’ saviour — Retired General Pervez Musharraf — is apparently landing next week.

If he manages to make good on his second promise for a second coming, it would be one spectator sport we wouldn’t want to miss for its excitement quotient alone.

The former strongman reneged on a declaration to return in January last year, citing security concerns but purportedly because he did not get guarantees from his parent institution for a safe passage.

Last week, he emphasized the situation had come to a “now or never” pass, and he would leave his security in the hands of the Almighty.

It is unclear who will want to wager their spare change, despite tiring of the general lack of governance in Pakistan — even British envoy in Islamabad recently dared to air a dollop of disappointment rather publicly.

With little political stock and extremely doubtful ability to create any meaningful space, the security establishment would be loathe to back the wrong horse. That is, if the horse will be able to bolt.

Musharraf, whose hand was forced after the political parties of two former prime ministers he had vowed never to allow back in politics, threatened to impeach him after winning the polls in early 2008, is no stranger to controversy, of course.

More significantly, the retired General has no dearth of enemies in the political fray, judiciary and the media, which combined, makes for a lethal cocktail. All of them have a genuine grouse or two and would be waiting on him if he lands.

As if the brew was not rich enough to unsettle Musharraf, the military whose leadership he bequeathed grudgingly to General Ashfaq Kayani in the winter of 2007, is itself wary of seeing the ex-head honcho come home Marlboro-style.

The security establishment’s role would be critical to Musharraf’s adventure. Last year, the-then ISI chief flew into the UAE to convince Musharraf to drop his plans for a comeback.

The military’s role in the context of his return assumes added significance for two reasons; one, under General Kayani, the institution studiously moved away from his predecessor’s intrusive role in politics, and; two, paradoxically, it may yet be sensitive to any humiliation its former boss would cop.

Significantly, Kayani openly declared his backing for the democratic process, calibrating the intent with a commitment for his “dream of a transparent, free and fair election.”

If Musharraf comes calling that commitment will be tested. Consider: the former strongman has a slew of cases awaiting him. He may have been given a guard of honour — a farewell that still rankles the democrats — following his forced resignation in 2008 under peculiar circumstances but for the political forces there is no such obligation to swallow pride now.

To begin with, Musharraf faces charges of involvement in the killing of Baloch nationalist Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006. Last year, an anti-terrorist court in Bugti’s restive province issued arrest warrants for the retired General and his aides. There is a national consensus on how that killing sent the province spiraling into lawlessness from which neither the province nor state has recovered.

The former strongman is also facing arrest warrants for his alleged role in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. He was, in fact, declared an absconder in the case last year.

Musharraf, of course, denies the charges and his legal team comprising of that wily old fox Sharifuddin Pirzada are hopeful of obtaining bail before arrival.

He also ordered the military operation at the Lal Masjid in 2007 to evict militants — with hundreds of seminary students, including females, holed up inside the compound — despite an apparent last-minute agreement between the cleric and the government’s mediating team.

Musharraf has so far refused to appear before the court in the said case.

But the decision that will really come back to haunt him is the abrogation of the constitution with a sweeping Emergency in 2007 when he sacked the superior judiciary (detaining the judges and their families) before it could announce a verdict on the legality of his re-election as president in uniform.

Musharraf could do no worse when, in a decidedly cavalier move, his regime took the private electronic media off air as well. The subsequent crackdown on lawyers, who had by then, galvanized the nation into launching a popular movement against the dictator, as well as political and social activists loosened his grip on power and ultimately, catalyzed his descent into irrelevance.

It would probably be an exaggeration to suggest he will be tried under Article 6 and eventually pay with his life; history makes that inconceivable for obvious reasons even though the current judiciary is not shy of stamping its feet on the line in some interesting ways.

Having said that, some red lines do exist even at the worst of times, howsoever invisible. Perhaps, this is what Musharraf is banking on to make his “now or never” advance.

Realistically speaking, Musharraf has been away from Pakistan for a very long time and is most likely only overestimating his ambition make the cut. For one, Pakistan has undergone tremendous transformation in its journey towards sustainable democracy.

If Musharraf can see the irony of his predicament, it is that even the powerful military is sensitive to being even remotely conjectured as a conspirator against Project Democracy.

Just recently, the DG ISPR and then the chief khaki himself categorically affirmed their backing of a democratic transition with the latter even suggesting it was inevitable and the only ticket in town.

With Musharraf’s nemesis Nawaz Sharif riding a crest of popularity and electability wave, there is going to be no shortage of excitement. More than five years ago the ex-Commando packed off Sharif back to the Holy Land before he could properly inhale the air outside the airport lounge. Now, he himself would do well to even overcome cabin fear!

Fasten your seatbelts.

The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]


  1. so mocking on runaway commondo Musharraf means "intellectual dishonesty" to you.really I am enlightened by this new version of intellectual dishonesty introducing in our system by some so called literate class of Pakistan

  2. You can thank Musharraf for your media freedom. No shortage of backstabbing Pakistanis. Not an inch of development or advancement made during chief justice ppp and pml-n. Musharraf created the basis making Pakistan stronger. All they do is eat from it. They are but a worthless people. Pakistan and democracy no chance. Because true democracy doesn’t exist. Specialy with 2 billionaires who obtained their money true scams and involvement of the cia and raw. CJP hasn’t brought an inch of justice, hasn’t become any safer or better in Pakistan. I support the General, democracy sucks, you have all been fooled.

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