Back in the line of fire

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Amir Zia

FORMER pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf has played yet an­other gam­ble – this time by de­cid­ing to re­turn to Pak­istan at a time when the coun­try stands just less than 50 days from the gen­eral elec­tions. Any ra­tio­nal re­view of his war-in­ven­tory and bat­tlepre­pared­ness would re­veal that most cards are decked against him.

To be­gin with, his All Pak­istan Mus­lim League (APML) is still a pa­per tiger. The APML is de­void of no­table politi­cians and lacks or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­ture and po­lit­i­cal cadre. Most of the politi­cians who were pa­tro­n­ised and cul­ti­vated by the re­tired gen­eral dur­ing his nine-year rule have al­ready joined var­i­ous tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Those who are still with the former king’s party – the Pak­istan Mus­lim League (Quaid-e-Azam Group) – are in an elec­toral al­liance with the Pak­istan Peo­ples’ Party (PPP). At the most, Mushar­raf will be able to at­tract some feather-weight politi­cians who have been un­able to find any tak­ers in the ma­jor par­ties. The ar­gu­ment that the APML needed Mushar­raf’s pres­ence in the coun­try to at­tract some big names in its folds and build a team car­ries weight, but the former pres­i­dent is land­ing in Pak­istan a lit­tle too late for this. The elec­toral bat­tle lines have al­ready been drawn and there is hardly any time left to or­gan­ise or re­or­gan­ise the party.

Se­condly, Mushar­raf’s hopes to forge an al­liance with his former al­lies will also be a hard bargain to strike. His former al­lies, in­clud­ing the Mut­tahida Qaumi Move­ment (MQM), will have to think twice be­fore of­fer­ing him any tan­gi­ble sup­port. Un­der the changed po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances when the rightwing nar­ra­tive dom­i­nates Pak­istan, Mushar­raf with all his ef­forts for the UN-backed war on ter­ror­ism and close al­liance with the United States, will prove more of a li­a­bil­ity than a win­ning card. At the most, Mushar­raf may se­cure sup­port for his own seat – which too will come with a heavy po­lit­i­cal price tag.

But the ab­sence of a team and the dearth of po­lit­i­cal al­lies are not the only chal­lenges the former mil­i­tary ruler faces. The big­ger chal­lenge will come from the su­pe­rior ju­di­ciary, which is hear­ing a num­ber of high-pro­file cases against him in­clud­ing those of the as­sas­si­na­tions of Be­nazir Bhutto and Ak­bar Bugti, the Lal Masjid op­er­a­tion and the con­fine­ment of 62 judges. How Mushar­raf faces the heat of the court rooms will be a test of his en­durance and nerves. The judges and the ex-gen­eral have a his­tory and some bit­ter mem­o­ries. The face-off would in­deed be an in­ter­est­ing af­fair.

Yes, stag­ing a coup and call­ing shots while in uni­form is one thing and be­ing a vul­ner­a­ble civil­ian is to­tally a dif­fer­ent ball­game. Mushar­raf will have to ad­just and adapt him­self to this changed, tough re­al­ity, which is in­deed not an easy task. Although, con­ven­tional wis­dom be­lieves that the mighty in­sti­tu­tion of the army will not ‘tol­er­ate’ its ex-chief be­ing in trou­ble, Mushar­raf’s pres­ence in Pak­istan will be more of a headache than a re­lief for the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship in the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. Army Chief Gen­eral Ash­faq Parvez Kayani, in par­tic­u­lar, would have pre­ferred that his former men­tor and boss re­mained happy and se­cure in for­eign lands.

Many of Mushar­raf’s well-wish­ers re­alise that the num­ber of his pow­er­ful foes on the home turf ex­ceeds the num­ber of his friends. Start­ing from Mian Nawaz Sharif’s Pak­istan Mus­lim League to the dis­grun­tled Baloch na­tion­al­ists, and from the re­li­gious par­ties to the born-again democrats that in­clude Im­ran Khan’s Tehreek-e-In­saf, the list of politi­cians who have an axe to grind with the coun­try’s former strong­man is in­deed a long one. Mushar­raf will be an easy punch­bag for them all, both lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally.

But the op­po­si­tion by tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal ri­vals will be akin to a walk in the park for Mushar­raf if one con­sid­ers the threat to his life, which comes from Al-Qaeda and lo­cal mil­i­tants of all hues. Mushar­raf had sev­eral close en­coun­ters with death when he was in power. But per­haps mil­i­tants will be breath­ing at his neck again more closely now as he is no more the army chief and pres­i­dent. Will his pri­vate se­cu­rity ar­range­ments and the ones pro­vided by the government be enough to keep him out of the reach of lurk­ing as­sas­sins and sui­cide bombers? Pak­istan of to­day is a much more dan­ger­ous and lawless place than the one Mushar­raf left in 2008. He will be prac­ti­cally walking through a mine­field ev­ery day in Pak­istan.

Given th­ese odds, what chance does Mushar­raf have of keep­ing him­self afloat in the murky wa­ters of the coun­try’s pol­i­tics or of carv­ing out a role for him­self? Even some of Mushar­raf’s ar­dent fans and close aides are scep­ti­cal of his de­ci­sion to re­turn to the coun­try, though they talk of be­hind-the-scene guar­an­tees from the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment, Riyadh and even Washington.

But the hard fact is that sim­i­lar guar­an­tees were also given to former pre­mier Be­nazir Bhutto. They could not save her from the bomb and gun at­tack in Rawalpindi weeks af­ter the first sui­cide at­tack on her in Karachi on Oc­to­ber 18, 2007. Who could know bet­ter than Mushar­raf what hap­pened to Bhutto with whom he struck a deal and promised and de­liv­ered the Na­tional Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Or­di­nance? Iron­i­cally, Mushar­raf finds him­self in a more or less sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion to­day – but with­out the fol­low­ing of a mass party. Ac­cord­ing to one of his aides, the hurly­burly of elec­tions of­fer the best op­por­tu­nity to Mushar­raf to stage a re­turn. The fo­cus will not be solely on him. All his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and foes will be busy tar­get­ing one an­other dur­ing their elec­tion cam­paign.

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