The Mushar­raf episode

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Zahid Hus­sain

THE furore over Mushar­raf's leav­ing the coun­try seems to be a case of much ado about noth­ing. It is sim­ply a political com­pro­mise that the Sharif govern­ment needed to make in or­der to re­move a ma­jor source of ten­sion with the gen­er­als. It is also a recog­ni­tion of the lim­i­ta­tion of a civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion that had al­ready crossed the Ru­bi­con by dar­ing to put a for­mer mil­i­tary strong­man on trial for high trea­son. The PPP is now us­ing the is­sue to whip the govern­ment, but had al­ready ac­cepted the con­straint long ago by not in­sist­ing on pros­e­cut­ing the dis­graced mil­i­tary leader when the party was in power. That com­pro­mise surely con­trib­uted to its com­plet­ing a full term in of­fice de­spite per­pet­ual ten­sions with the mil­i­tary. Now out of power, the party finds it ex­pe­di­ent to take a hard line on the is­sue. But it is noth­ing more than a storm in a teacup.

Surely, lift­ing the re­stric­tion on his trav­el­ling in­ter­na­tion­ally is not meant to en­sure Mushar­raf is let off the hook al­to­gether. But the trea­son trial al­ready seems to have fallen apart. It is ob­vi­ous that the is­sue is al­most a closed chap­ter. The other cases against the for­mer mil­i­tary leader too do not seem to be go­ing any­where. So the show of flex­i­bil­ity could help the govern­ment build bridges with the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship and buy greater political space to deal with other crit­i­cal na­tional is­sues.

But this new­found prag­ma­tism has come the hard way. Nawaz Sharif's de­ci­sion to start the trea­son case against Mushar­raf had brought him into con­fronta­tion with the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship from the start of his third term in of­fice. The en­su­ing ten­sion also gave cre­dence to the spec­u­la­tion about the mil­i­tary's back­ing for the dharna staged by the Imran-Qadri duo.

Al­though Sharif scraped through that cri­sis, the mil­i­tary made it clear that its for­mer chief would not stand trial for trea­son. While on his way to a spe­cial court in 2014, Mushar­raf was whisked away to a mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal where he was kept un­der strict se­cu­rity. Mushar­raf, how­ever, did ap­pear be­fore the tri­bunal re­port­edly af­ter a deal with the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship that he would be al­lowed to leave the coun­try af­ter the pro­ceed­ings. A spe­cial air­craft was ready to fly him to the UAE, but Nawaz Sharif re­port­edly re­neged on the agree­ment.

That fur­ther height­ened the stand­off. Al­though the trial was re­sumed later, Mushar­raf hardly ap­peared be­fore the court. For the past one year, he had been liv­ing un­der the mil­i­tary's pro­tec­tion in his res­i­dence in Karachi. He was also ex­empted from ap­pear­ance in other cases. The only prob­lem was that he was not al­lowed to travel abroad. The fed­eral govern­ment sought to take the court's cover on the is­sue. But that too was blown by the lat­est Supreme Court rul­ing that it did not have any­thing to do with him be­ing put on the Exit Con­trol List. Mushar­raf re­turned from self-ex­ile to Pak­istan in 2013 against the ad­vice of the then army chief Gen Ash­faq Kayani who had in 2008 ne­go­ti­ated a deal for a re­spectable exit for his for­mer boss. He found him­self en­tan­gled in le­gal bat­tle as he landed in Karachi. Gen Kayani could hardly do any­thing to ex­tri­cate him from that em­bar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tion.

But the con­flict came to a head when Mushar­raf was charged with high trea­son. That was also the time of a change of guard in the army with Gen Ra­heel Sharif tak­ing over. The angst of the gen­er­als was ev­i­dent in the re­port­edly tough mes­sages sent to the prime min­is­ter through the new chief. Af­ter re­sist­ing pres­sure for al­most two years, the prime min­is­ter has fi­nally yielded.

For sure, civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions have sta­bilised to some ex­tent over the past year af­ter the in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of the fight against ter­ror­ism fol­low­ing the Pe­shawar school car­nage by mil­i­tants in De­cem­ber 2014. But the trea­son trial re­mained a sore point.

There was cer­tainly no political div­i­dend for Sharif to stick to his hard­line po­si­tion on Mushar­raf's exit from the coun­try. Gen Ra­heel Sharif is re­tir­ing in a few months' time, but the new com­man­der would also be un­der pres­sure from his of­fi­cers not to let their for­mer chief stand trial for trea­son. An­other fac­tor that may have com­pelled the prime min­is­ter to soften his po­si­tion is the grow­ing chal­lenge from right-wing Is­lamic par­ties who stepped up their anti-govern­ment cam­paign fol­low­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of Mum­taz Qadri and the pas­sage of the women's pro­tec­tion bill by the Pun­jab govern­ment.

Sharif is now in­creas­ingly re­liant on the army as the bat­tle against mil­i­tancy en­ters a crit­i­cal stage. The hang­ing of Qadri also seems to have af­fected his con­ser­va­tive religious con­stituency. Though his govern­ment is much more sta­ble it can still not af­ford to an­tag­o­nise the gen­er­als. For Sharif, al­low­ing Mushar­raf to leave the coun­try was, per­haps, a nec­es­sary ac­com­mo­da­tion with the army in or­der to keep the political process go­ing. Even those who are cry­ing them­selves hoarse over the is­sue know this well.

Mushar­raf may still re­turn at some stage. Yet it is highly un­likely that the trea­son trial will reach any con­clu­sion. In­deed, ev­ery­one should be held ac­count­able for il­le­gal, un­con­sti­tu­tional ac­tions, but jus­tice should not be selec­tive. Some of those who want Mushar­raf's head have them­selves been as­so­ci­ated with mil­i­tary regimes in the past. There are too many skele­tons in their clos­ets. It was the ju­di­ciary that had le­git­imised the coup and an elected par­lia­ment later in­dem­ni­fied all the ac­tions taken by the mil­i­tary-led govern­ment. Was it not the PPP govern­ment that up­held many of the ac­tions taken by Mushar­raf af­ter he im­posed emer­gency in 2007 in­clud­ing the ap­point­ment of Jus­tice Hameed Dogar as chief jus­tice?

Even if by chance the for­mer mil­i­tary ruler is con­victed, it is not go­ing to block the way for fu­ture ad­ven­tur­ers. What is needed is the strength­en­ing of demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and restora­tion of the pub­lic's faith in civil­ian in­sti­tu­tions. This is the only way to stop Bon­a­partism in the fu­ture.

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