Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, currently in Davos for the World Economic Forum, has categorically said in an interview to CNN that General (retd) Pervez Musharraf would definitely be arrested if he returns to Pakistan. The PM reminded his interviewer that Musharraf had grave charges against him, including the 2006 murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti and the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He went on to say that even the Supreme Court had given a verdict against him. Therefore, the law would take its course if Musharraf decided to land on Pakistani soil. In response to this and other government officials’ reiteration in recent days that a warm ‘welcome’ awaited the former military dictator, Musharraf has announced that he has decided to ‘postpone’ his return until the situation is more favourable on the advice of his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League. Musharraf’s party intends to review the decision in its core committee meeting.
Musharraf has been enjoying the past over three years of ‘self-imposed’ exile because of the western countries’ lecture circuit on which he has been flattered by appearances and in the process reportedly earned a lot of money. Back home, his fortunes have not been so rosy. A newly installed elected government in 2008 found it expedient not to earn the ire of the military and went along with Musharraf being allowed to resign and go into exile abroad without a hair on his head being touched. Three plus years down the road, however, the ‘guarantee’ of safety from the military seems to have worn thin. Reports have indicated that the DG ISI met Musharraf in Dubai to persuade him that the time was not right for his return. These reports have not been denied. The government’s newfound courage to call a spade a spade in Musharraf’s case may be partly due to the perception that Musharraf no longer enjoys automatic immunity for his sins, underwritten by the military. Partly this turn of events may also have something to do with the emerging consensus amongst the political forces regarding the proper ‘treatment’ to be accorded Musharraf. One example of this emerging consensus is the Senate resolution backing Musharraf’s arrest if he sets foot on Pakistani soil.
It is good that the voice in the wilderness of Nawab Bugti’s sons seeking justice for the murder of their father has finally found a response and resonance amongst the political actors. In the matter of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, the tragedy of the loss of arguably our most prominent and illustrious leader was compounded when the person with whom the buck stopped in terms of responsibility for her death was allowed to ‘get out of jail free’. Be that as it may, there is some comfort to be found in the belated but welcome castigation of Musharraf as an alleged murderer who must face the music like any other citizen. What is missing, however, in the developments on this front is any suggestion that Musharraf should be tried under Article 6 for overthrowing an elected government in 1999 and imposing his one-man rule for nine long and tortuous years. Never in Pakistan’s history has a military coup-maker been brought to justice. Ayub escaped with the expedient of handing over to his C-in-C Yahya, who never faced any accountability for his butchery in East Pakistan and its subsequent loss. Zia was ‘removed’ by mysterious and until now unidentified forces, thereby again escaping being held to account for the havoc he wreaked on Pakistani state and society, a legacy that is still alive and kicking and responsible for the many ills afflicting the country. Had any of these adventurers been brought to book, our history would have been different, and the perennial civil-military imbalance may well have been on the way to being corrected. It may sound like the height of optimism, but it is still not too late to make an example of our last military dictator to shut the door once and for all on all such adventurers and ambitious charlatans.