Pakistan won't have Musharraf to kick around anymore

General Musharraf was a somewhat benign autocrat who wanted to be like Ataturk; but his return from exile to get elected in the top job, smacks of miscalculation.

B.K. Bangash/AP
Pakistan's former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf leaves the High Court in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday. Musharraf and his security team pushed past policemen and sped away from a court in the country’s capital on Thursday after his bail was revoked in a case in which he is accused of treason.

Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former Army chief and national ruler today escaped a set of judges and an Islamabad arrest order, climbed in a black bullet proof SUV, and sped red-faced away for the protection of home.

For General Musharraf, who once held all the reins of power in Pakistan, it seems a spectacle of humiliation and miscalculation, or as the BBC calls it “high drama and farce.” 

The Islamabad judges that Musharraf sought to muzzle and dismiss in 2007 now appear to have muzzled him – ultimately thwarting his aim to run for high office May 11, in what will be the first formal civilian transfer of authority in Pakistan’s history.

Musharraf’s lawyers will likely appeal the charges of malfeasance against him for ordering 60 judges to be removed in 2007. But for Musharraf, born in New Delhi before the partition of India and Pakistan, and who of late has been living in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London, a chapter may have closed.

He long dreamed of himself as Pakistan’s Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, forging a path similar to the Turkish military ruler that secularized that Muslim country.  He hoped to be a moderating force of reason, a “chief executive,” a secular reformer with clout in a land of Taliban and madrassas, the guy that could keep things together and running while the nation modernized, someone that impressed US Pentagon chief Colin Powell.

But last week Musharraf’s much-touted return to Karachi did not excite crowds; efforts to run his All-Pakistan Muslim League party failed in four districts. And he’s ended up looking more like Don Quixote than an Ataturk.

The Guardian describes Musharraf’s bid to return home as doomed and offers today that the general is:

...politically what Imran Khan was in the mid-1990s, when the famous cricket-turned-philanthropist launched his own career in politics: a high-wattage name that grabs a disproportionate share of the media spotlight but has negligible traction with the voting public. Now that he has been barred from contesting the upcoming general election by a judiciary that has not forgotten Musharraf's attempt in 2007 to sack Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Musharraf still faces a sea of legal trouble, brought into sharp focus by Thursday's refusal to extend the bail granted to him last month. Musharraf may yet be able to return to life abroad …but his political obituary has long been written.

Musharraf now finds three criminal cases thrown against him: He’s charged with not providing enough security to prevent the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, allegations that he ordered the killing of a Baloch nationalist leader in 2006, and the court case he walked out of today.

Whether Musharraf, who in court brushed past police on his way out, will finally be made an example in his own country and put behind bars is unclear. The Los Angeles Times quotes a prosecuting attorney:

“The security he has been given is only meant to safeguard his life, not to allow him to avoid the law,” said senior lawyer Chaudhry Muhammad Aslam Ghumman, the complainant in the judges' detention case against Musharraf. “They are flouting the law. The people responsible for implementing the order of the court are facilitating the culprit.” 

But Musharraf’s lawyers said today that the Islamabad court ruling against him wasn’t about law and order, but was "seemingly motivated by personal vendettas."

Though many Pakistanis started to loath Musharraf by the time he stepped down and he may not have stood a chance at actually securing the position of prime minister, fair questions may be asked about whether Pakistan is better served by fewer candidates running for the high office. 

And unlike ostensible current front-runner Nawaz Sharif, who hails from the Punjab, and who in the late 1990s as national leader was unable to reign in the growing jihadis in places like Lahore, Musharraf could crack down. He is one of about two current candidates for high office not part of the small coterie of regional family dynasties that rule the nation. 

While Musharraf gets called a former “military dictator,”  anyone who has watched Pakistani politics might think the term overly harsh, considering the Muammar Qaddafi or Bashir al Assad end of the “dictator” spectrum. Unlike those dictators, after all, Musharraf stepped down.

Future of Pakistan

Pakistan may be just about rid of Musharraf, but in a country where judicial authority has been distorted so often, it remains unclear what kind of future leadership Pakistan will see.

The nation is fractured, faces a need for more IMF bailouts, has an uncertain but powerful military influence, grudges are rife in every direction.  

Though today it is a different world than when he last held power, it is worth remembering that at one point Musharraf may truly have been within striking distance of peace with India over the jewel of Kashmir. Steve Coll asked Musharraf about it in an interview he wrote up in 2009 the New Yorker:

"I've always believed in peace between India and Pakistan," [Musharraf] replied. "But it required boldness on both sides. . . . What I find lacking sometimes is this boldness – particularly on the Indian side." He then reviewed a long negotiating session he had had, many years before, with former Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee, in which the pair had tried and failed to agree on a particular joint statement. As he recounted the incident, the pitch of Musharraf's voice rose slightly; he seemed to be reliving his frustration.

He returned to the subject of the 2007 talks. "I wasn't just giving concessions – I was taking from India as well," he said, a touch defensively. Then he calmed. He fixed his gaze and added, "It would have benefitted both India and Pakistan."

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