Whichever way the Hitchcockian drama in Islamabad plays out there is at least one certainty in the grand confusion: that Pervez Musharraf, arguably the most delusional of the four military dictators that have ruled Pakistan for nearly half its existence, has reached the end of the road. His pipedream of landing in his country after five years of exile, like a triumphant Caesar – in the hope of being welcomed by people still nostalgic about what he had done for them in the past and anxious to give him another chance to lead them – has turned out to be a nightmare.
He can now rue over his folly during his house arrest in his sprawling farmhouse at the edge of the Pakistani capital. As a matter of fact, Islamabad-based foreign correspondents who had gone to Karachi to cover Musharraf’s “momentous arrival” have reported that it should have been clear from that moment that the former president had no future. His candidature in the four constituencies has already been rejected and most of the political leaders he expected to be with him have already joined other mainstream parties.
He has no role in the ongoing elections or any influence on their outcome. Incidentally, the most delightful and appropriate comment on his present plight has come from Xinhua, the official news agency of China, Pakistan’s “all-weather” friend where at one time Musharraf used to be welcome. There was, says Xinhua, “poetic justice” in Pakistan when the Islamabad Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant against the former president – something he had done “against dozens of judges when he arrested them in 2007”. On the fate that awaits him, opinions differ widely.
Some hope, rather than think, that the judiciary that he humiliated so disgracefully in 2007 would not be content without hanging him, especially because the three main charges against him are heinous and include the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the murder in cold blood of the eminent Baloch leader, Sardar Mohammed Akbar Bugti. Some others believe that if the law and the judicial process don’t get Musharraf, the lawless Taliban would. In my view, this possibility should also be ruled out in view of the enormous commando security the Pakistan Army has provided this former commando general. As of now, the most plausible scenario seems to be that Musharraf’s judicial custody up to May 4 will be extended beyond the date of elections that is May 11. Thereafter his trial can begin, if the judiciary and the new government insist on it. But then it can go on and on for years, if only because in this and many other basic practices the underlying unity of the subcontinent endures. However, overall it is a safe bet that Pakistan’s power structure cannot afford to hurt the sentiments of the all-powerful Army by executing or even imprisoning a former army chief.
According to available information, General Ashfaque Pervez Kayani, though a one-time protégé of Musharraf, did not want him to come home, leave alone take part in the elections. It is said that messages to this effect were sent to him several times. However, when the megalomaniac former military ruler having hallucinations about his popularity with the Pakistani masses did arrive, the Army considered it its bounden duty to see to it that no harm came to his person and that his, and more importantly, the Army’s izzat (an expression dear to both the Indian and Pakistani armies) was not besmirched in any way. This situation will prevail regardless of the dispensation resulting from the May 11 poll. It would be no surprise if some kind of an understanding already exists among the major stakeholders in Pakistan on this subject.
Come to think of it, even under a caretaker government, whose only duty is to hold free and fair elections, all concerned have treated Musharraf with kid gloves. Remarkably, Xinhua has taken note of “the speculations” that despite the apex court’s clear order to arrest him, “some bigwigs” in the government told the police to “go slow on Musharraf”.
It would, indeed, be instructive to look back on the events in 1999 when, after his successful coup, Musharraf wanted to “fix well and proper” his bete noir and then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. But then Saudi Arabia intervened and the military dictator agreed to let Sharif go in exile to Saudi Arabia for 10 years. Today, the Saudi stakes in the stability of Pakistan are even higher than before.
There are two other points that call for comment. The first is the rather intriguing fact that the United States is refusing to comment on Musharraf”s house arrest one way or the other. Does this lend any credence to his calculation while planning his strategy to take part in elections that, given the configuration of forces in the post-poll Pakistan, the Americans would prefer a government led by him?
After all it was he who, on the morrow of 9/11, had reversed Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan and lined up his country with the US in the “war on terror”. Moreover, as revealed only recently, in 2003Musharraf unhesitatingly allowed the Americans to use drones to kill as they wished in North Waziristan as long as they left the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e- Mohammmed and other Pakistani terrorist outfits operating against India well alone?
Today, the US desperately needs Pakistani cooperation for its plan to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Secondly, the speculation in some quarters in both India and Pakistan that should the civilian government resist the Army’s demand to let Musharraf go, Kayani and the Army would stage a coup should be dismissed.
Firstly, over the years Gen Kayani has demonstrated repeatedly that he sees no point in directly taking over when the Army can get its way anyhow. Furthermore, gone are the days of the Cold War when the US had a vested interest in embracing and coddling military dictators in Pakistan. Samuel P. Huntington had then written a book to press home the point that in newly independent countries the armed forces were the best instrument for stability.
Those days are gone. Today, America is the super-salesman of democracy across the world. It can ill-afford a military takeover in Pakistan, never mind the adverse reaction of the world community in general.