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General Musharraf in his labyrinth

Sitting at his palatial mansion, misleadingly referred to as a farm house because it is built on farm land, on the outskirts of Islamabad, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf plans his next move at a time when the government has said it will try the former president for treason.

world Updated: Nov 24, 2013 00:53 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad

Sitting at his palatial mansion, misleadingly referred to as a farm house because it is built on farm land, on the outskirts of Islamabad, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf plans his next move at a time when the government has said it will try the former president for treason. If found guilty, Musharraf can end up at the gallows, warn some.

But Musharraf does not seem as worried as he should be. Much of his time is spent playing cards and having cocktails with his friends, many of whom are ex-army officers themselves. And there is a lot of discussion on how to plan the next move.

Musharraf may have been deserted by his old political allies, many of whom are now allies with the present government, but most of his army colleagues stand by him even today. This includes former course mates and generals who served under him when he was military strongman of Pakistan.

One such serviceman who visited the General recently said Musharraf is in high spirits. “All this talk of treason and hanging hasn’t affected Musharraf. All he wants is to be given freedom of movement.”

It has been a struggle for some time now. Ever since he arrived in Pakistan earlier this year to participate in the country’s general elections, Musharraf has faced a number of setbacks: from being disqualified as an election candidate to being placed under house arrest and put on the exit control list.

None of this has fazed him insist his party supporters who say if given a chance, General Musharraf would have been in parliament today and would have been talking on issues that no one wants to take up, which include the country’s controversial drone policy as well as corruption in politics. They say it is Musharraf’s outspoken attitude that has made many panic.

Either way, today the General may be fighting for his life, as treason charges are being framed against him by the government of the man he ousted in 1999.

Earlier this month, the Nawaz Sharif government announced that it would request the Supreme Court to constitute a special court to try the former president for high treason for imposing emergency in the country in 2007. Within days, chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry forwarded the names of five of which three were chosen by the government to form a special court. The next step now is that a trial should begin.

But there is a lot of murkiness. For one, Ahmed Raza Kasuri, Musharraf’s lawyer in the cases instituted against him earlier, says that it is not only Musharraf who should be tried. “We will need to bring to trial all the corps commanders and officers who planned and executed the coup. This cannot happen.”

For starters, one of those who participated in the coup is currently in the running for army chief. The government, however, insists that only Musharraf will be tried. This itself has been challenged.

The other issue is personal. One doesn’t know who hates Musharraf more. Nawaz Sharif, whose government the army chief toppled, or Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was sacked as chief justice by Musharraf.

“It is interesting,” says lawyer Jaffar Ahmed, “that the case against Musharraf has been framed for 2007 and not 1999 when he took power from Sharif. That is because the present chief justice took oath under the military government then and can be seen as an accomplice in that sense.”

Lawyers insist that Chaudhry wants to settle scores with Musharraf before the chief justice retires in December. “He wants to close all open chapters so that he himself is not brought to trial after he retires.”

Musharraf is aware that all those bringing him to trial are themselves culpable in many ways. That is possibly why he has retained the services of Pakistan’s most high-profile lawyer Sharifuddin Pirzada, who has been the architect behind legislation that gave legitimacy to successive military governments.

Termed the “Jadoogar of Jeddah” because of his stint with the Organization of Islamic Conference, Pirzada has been the brain behind the PCO – the Provisional Constitutional Order that legitimized the Musharraf government and under which judges like Iftikhar Chaudhry took oath to continue in their positions.

So far, the army has stayed away from the proceedings. But it has been keen to keep its former chief safe owing to threats from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

The personal security of Musharraf has been in the hands of army commandoes and any attempts by the civilian government to hound the former army chief are seen with alarm in army circles.

“When the court sentenced Musharraf to jail, the army intervened to have his house declared as a sub-jail. They would not let their former chief be taken to a civilian facility,” recalls one officer.

Even then, the trial has caused much debate in Pakistan. Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar says “it is happening for the first time in Pakistan’s history. The decision to proceed was taken in the national interest.”

The question that many ask is whether this would result in Musharraf being hanged, as the sentence for high treason is life. Justice Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui, a former chief justice, says that if found guilty, then there is no escaping life imprisonment or death.

“The punishment can be harsh if allegations are proven. The law allows no leniency on this count,” he added.