Wednesday, March 6, 2013

           Musharraf to be back home
His expectations and the reality in Pakistan
by Rana Banerji

ON March 1, former Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf (retd) announced in Dubai that he would return to Pakistan one week after the installation of a caretaker government to contest parliamentary elections under the banner of his political party, All-Pakistan Muslim League (APML), formed in June 2010. He had promised to return last year as well but deferred it at the last minute, ostensibly on the advice of his friends in the Army who feared for his life and safety.
The present, the government at the Centre and the provincial governments, including the National and Provincial Assemblies, are expected to be dissolved by presidential proclamation around March 15, which would make Musharraf's promised return date coincide very nearly with Pakistan's National Day on March 23, a moment permitting a diversionary impact by appeal to patriotic fervour.
Musharraf announced a four-point agenda — focusing on internal stability, regional peace, international acceptability and socio-economic development — and stressed that it was “now or never” for him to go back to “his beloved homeland”, to fight against many serious problems facing Pakistan, including religious terrorism, which was “eating us from inside”. In a message intended for his many detractors and political enemies, especially Nawaz Sharif, whose PML(N) has been given the edge in most recent opinion polls, he indicated that he would be seeking reconciliation on return.
If Musharraf does live up to his promise this time, he will have to face up to arrest warrants issued in at least two specific cases by anti-terrorism courts in Sibi, Dera Bugti, accusing him of involvement in the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 2006 and in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case of December 2007. He also faces a summons from the one-man Commission of Enquiry on the Lal Masjid case set up recently under Justice Shahzado Sheikh of the Federal Shariah Court, where he or his legal counsel have so far refused to appear. Though not likely to be found personally culpable for actions claimed to have been undertaken pursuant to “public purpose” and “national securiy”, Musharraf has said he will have his lawyers ready to deal with these cases legally. He may even have calculated to seek some political mileage before the elections if he is temporarily incarcerated.
Earlier, there were moves also to drag Musharraf into treason proceedings under Article 6 of the 1973 Constitution, both for violation of his oath as an Army officer indulging in politics under Article 244 of the Constitution and malafide promulgation of the November 3, 2007, emergency, followed by the dismissal of the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Though the latter has no love lost for him, the absence of dissolved legislatures may preclude serious pursuit of this option at present.
For the caretaker administration, which will be having its hands full with implementing the election agenda, the prospect of evolving appropriate state responses to contentious litigation arising from Musharraf's return will pose a needless headache. There will be additional responsibility to provide adequate security as Musharraf will face a serious enough threat from both Islamic radicals belonging to the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), who tried to assassinate him twice earlier in December 2003 as also from Baloch nationalists. The Bannu jail-break in April 2012 saw 150 Taliban militants taking security officials by complete surprise and releasing, among others, Adnan Rashid, one of the serving other ranks personnel held from the air force cell which was busted after the attacks on Musharraf.
Meanwhile, Shahzain Bugti, grandson and legally anointed heir of the Bugti clan, has already announced a Rs 10 million “head money” award according to tribal customs to anybody who will kill him!
If Musharraf is able to overcome all these hurdles before the elections and actually contest, his APML, comprising lightweight though moneyed lawyers like Saif Ali Khan and some retired Army loyalists like Maj-Gen Rashid Quereshi, would make a marginal impact only, possibly eating into votes of the two mainstream parties in the urban areas of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad as also weakening the impact of Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaaf (TI) as a viable “third option”.
The Army may view the prospect of Musharraf's return with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani remains personally beholden to him for having selected him for the top job in November 2007 over the claims of an equally deserving three-star General, Tariq Majeed, who was later given the ceremonial sop of Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. On the other, institutionally, the Army would not be too happy to see him humiliated or berated in courts beyond a point. Also, Musharraf would be looking to the Army to provide him fairly foolproof security cover. If something untoward is attempted or happens to him, seen to be emerging either from Islamist or Baloch nationalist quarters, this may not augur well for the Army's image in civil society for its inability to protect its own former Chief.
In terms of Musharraf's electoral prospects, the Army would surely have assessed carefully that his performance may not significantly alter political equations likely to lead to a “hung parliament” situation. If he does unexpectedly better, it could suit the Army to add another pro-establishment string to their bow, but this seems unlikely at present.
In the ultimate analysis, Musharraf's decision to return may be conditioned by last minute assessments from the Army and the ISI on how the various factors outlined above are likely to pan out. Security may be cited as a reason if he defers his return again. Otherwise, electorally, it may well turn out to be a damp squib.
The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.

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