x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Musharraf's lack of judgement is his own worst enemy

There is no doubt that Mr Musharraf erred grievously in judging the prevalent mood towards him in Pakistan. He is paying the price for that.

Perceptive Pakistani analysts foretold his arrest, and yet, former president Pervez Musharraf braved the threat and returned. Was it an act of courage or foolhardiness? Why did he come? And now that he has been detained on a variety of charges stemming from his time in power, what will become of him?

These questions resound in every house in Pakistan today. For many of those who understood him, there is little room for sympathy, even as many of us regret the entire episode.

Let's consider the facts of his fall from grace, now seemingly nearing completion.

In August 2007, Mr Musharraf signed the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance, granting amnesty to politicians. Intended to pave the way for Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan, with whom Mr Musharraf had struck a deal, the ordinance could not exclude opposition forces like Nawaz Sharif from returning as well.

Then in November 2007, Mr Musharraf, who was at the time both Pakistan's president and its army chief, declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. This set a course for a head-on collision with the judiciary. The Supreme Court responded promptly, declaring the suspension of the constitution illegal. Mr Musharraf, meanwhile, retaliated by placing the chief judge under arrest and incarcerated the judiciary in their respective residences.

The emergency lasted six weeks but Mr Musharraf, while holding on to the office of the president, shed his army uniform. Faced with impeachment by the elected representatives, Mr Musharraf eventually resigned from the office of president in August 2008. He then went into self-imposed exile for about four years in London and Dubai. He decided to return home last month to contest next month's elections only after the Sindh High Court granted him "temporary, protective bail" from charges of corruption and complicity in Bhutto's death.

Then things began to really turn sour for the former president. Not only was he disqualified from contesting the elections from any seat that he had applied for, but charges filed against him began to pile up.

Last week, the Islamabad High Court denied him bail and ordered his arrest.

He fled the court and the rest, as they say, is history in the making.

There is by now no doubt that Mr Musharraf erred grievously in judging the prevalent mood towards him in Pakistan. For that he is no doubt paying the price.

But there is another problem here: the Pakistani judiciary, a monolithic institute with the chief justice as its undisputed leader, has acted in a way that is suspiciously akin to a "sting operation" or entrapment.

Indeed, nearly every act since Mr Musharraf has returned appears suspiciously well-timed and (almost) orchestrated: the protective bail, the way he was encouraged to travel to Islamabad, the chief justice's demand inquiring if anyone had the courage to approach him to revisit Mr Musharraf's treasonous act of suspending the constitution, and the cancellation of bail and order of arrest by Islamabad's high court. Even those of us who hold little sympathy for the former president find this apparent judicial manipulation disconcerting.

Mr Musharraf certainly compounded his own errors. If the decision to return was a strategic error, it was made worse by numerous tactical ones. For instance, his demand for excessive security from the state resulted in his security staff becoming his wardens the moment a court ordered his arrest. Private security guards on his payroll would have given him far greater liberty of action. In Karachi, escape routes were available, but from Islamabad, he has none.

But perhaps his biggest blunder was an expectation that the army would intervene on his behalf. Instead, the army was dealt no cards in this deal. Its only option is to volunteer to try him by court martial for those crimes committed by him in uniform. But not even this option would not protect Mr Musharraf from the wrath of the judiciary, since his "emergency" continued after he shed his uniform, and such a scenario could be far more embarrassing for everyone involved.

This leads us to the final question: how will it end? Mr Musharraf, being a wily political operative, will likely take all those that he can down with him. We might find Pakistan at the epicentre of "Mushi-leaks" which could embarrass individuals and governments on many continents and, of course, domestically encompass many institutions and powerful individuals, in uniform or not.

I cannot but be reminded of the best-selling 1956 novel by Grace Metalious, Peyton Place, about a fictional town whose residents possess a string of lurid secrets. Those with skeletons in the closet in Pakistan, should dispose of them now, before it's too late.


Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer