Pervez Musharraf: From General to Prisoner

Kamna Arora

"I am a soldier, frankly, I believe in destiny, and I`m not afraid." – Pervez Musharraf

This comment provides an analysis of the actions of the man who has held supreme posts at the major institutions of Pakistan. He has been a soldier, he may believe in destiny, but he is certainly not that fearless. He did not waste a second in fleeing a courtroom in Islamabad after judges ordered his arrest over a bitter 2007 clash with the country`s judiciary.

Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani president and an ex-military strongman, is well-known for 1999 Kargil misadventure, his association with the US in the "war on terror", his tiff with judges, Lal Masjid operation and ultimately his self-exile and eventually his return to Pakistan only to face an arrest.

His electoral ambitions have put the retired general, who was minting a huge sum in London and Dubai while being in exile, behind the bars in Pakistan. Though it was expected, yet the development has made the complicated political scenario in Pakistan more chaotic and interesting ahead of the General Elections on May 11.

After all, neither judicial investigations nor death threats from Taliban militants could stop Musharraf from landing in his homeland to lead his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, after almost four-and-a-half-year exile. His sensational return to the Pakistani politics even caught the world`s attention. However, his thrilling comeback soon turned into a disaster when he was first disqualified from running in four separate constituencies and then eventually he was formally arrested. Notably, it is the first time that has happened to any former chief of the Pakistani Army. Musharraf is accused of illegally putting senior judges under house arrest during a period of emergency rule he imposed in 2007.

The whole episode has put a question mark on the political dreams of the ex-military strongman. Even if he gets a bail in this case, two more separate cases are hanging on his head. He is accused of not doing enough to protect the life of Benazir Bhutto when she was assassinated in 2007, just weeks prior to an election. He is also accused of ordering his troops to kill a popular tribal leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, in 2006. It seems that the man who claimed to have come to Pakistan to save the country is in dire need of safety for himself.

He must have thought Pakistanis, which are a facing a number of problems ranging from corruption to insurgency, will welcome him with open hands. But the presence of thin supporters outside the airport on his arrival in Pakistan after exile suggested something else. The bitter truth is he does not enjoy the support among Pakistanis he thought he does. He never actually did. Moreover, he is under arrest now and can`t leave the country.

Musharraf, who was born to an Urdu-speaking family in Old Delhi on August 11, 1943, became one of Pakistan`s longest-serving rulers after he took power in a 1999 bloodless coup d`état. His decision to back the then US president George W Bush in the wake of the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001 put him in the bad books at home.

He further enraged militants sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda when in July 2007 he ordered armed forces to storm the Lal Masjid, a mosque-school complex in central Islamabad. As per the Lal Masjid commission report which has been made public on April 21, Musharraf, former prime minister Shaukat Aziz and his political allies have been held responsible for the 2007 operation in which 103 people were killed. The US-backed dictator had, after the operation, defended his action and had threatened military action against any madrassa (Islamic school) “used for extremism”. The flip side is that Musharraf and his military regime are accused of staging a massacre. After the operation, Pakistan’s daily, The Dawn, had quoted an unnamed source, who visited the Lal Masjid and the adjacent Jamia Hafsa seminary for women shortly after the Army takeover, as saying that the floors were littered with corpses wrapped in white shrouds.

In the same year, he suspended the chief justice of the Supreme Court for "misuse of authority". This move of his triggered more anger against him, initiating a series of problems which ultimately ousted him from power in 2008.

Musharraf, who was born in Old Delhi on August 11, 1943, is on the hitlist of the Pakistani Taliban. His recent admission that his government had secretly signed off on US drone strikes within its borders will only add to his woes. Reports say even the Pakistan’s military does not want the former Army chief, who looks up to Napoleon and Richard Nixon as models for leadership, to throw his hat into the ring. But it does support Musharraf. It seems that in order to avoid a standoff between military and government, the former Army chief has been confined to two rooms of the Mediterranean-style home in the plush Chak Shahzad suburb of Islamabad.

Musharraf, who joined Pakistan Military Academy in 1961, witnessed action in the 1965 war against India. He was made a general in 1998 and in 1999, he, along with three other generals, masterminded the Kargil operation, in which Pakistan had to face defeat at the hands of India. Musharraf’s flawed claim of “militarily success” in the war in his autobiography has earned him criticism. Whom is he trying to woo by saying he is proud of Kargil? A shoe lobbed at him by a lawyer in the Sindh High Court is the answer to all his misconceptions about his reputation in the Islamic Republic.

He is indeed lucky. He did not only avert being hit by the shoe, but also escaped at least three assassination attempts when in office. The man who founded the All Pakistan Muslim League party in exile is now unlikely to make it in the May 11 election. Albeit some are also predicting a compromise that would permit Musharraf to silently leave the country, yet his journey from a general to a dictator to an absconder and now a prisoner shows how irrelevant he is in Pakistan today.