On December 17, a special court convicted former army chief and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf of high treason under Article 6 of the Constitution and sentenced him to death. The three-judge court was formed under special orders of the Supreme Court to prosecute him for imposing emergency and subverting the judiciary in November 2007. It was a summary process after General Musharraf had “failed to appear on summons six times” while “recovering” from ill-health in his luxury apartment in Dubai.
In an unusual response, the Pakistan Army spoke through its spokesman: “An ex-Army Chief, Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Committee and President of Pakistan, who has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defence of the country, can surely never be a traitor.” Perhaps encouraged by a reluctant-to-prosecute government, the army and its several retired generals who appear regularly on TV, clearly put forth a point of view that was expressed only indirectly in the past.
The case was brought before the Supreme Court in 2007 by the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) of Nawaz Sharif that the general had overthrown through a coup in 1999. He dodged the court repeatedly, helped by his namesake-successor army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, till 2014, when he denied the charge. After two years of playing hide-and-seek, he was helped by the next army chief, General Raheel Sharif, “through pressure”, to leave the country.
The ill-fated year 2007 was also the year that saw the leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in Rawalpindi. She had escaped death at the hands of an earlier suicide-bomber in Karachi but succumbed to a more well-planned attack in Rawalpindi. Musharraf, who didn’t want her to return to Pakistan, was seen to be in the dock. In so far as he appeared to have deliberately failed to provide her routine protection, he was dubbed guilty by many Pakistanis.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom he overthrew, chose him as his army chief because he looked “liberal” and not “too religious”, a decision he was to regret later. The breaking-point came with the Kargil war that Musharraf unleashed, saying the prime minister had okayed it. Taking place between May and July 1999, the conflict was a disaster for Pakistan. But rather than face punishment for his failings, its planner-executioner, General Musharraf, staged a coup against the democratically elected government in October 1999, grabbing the reins of power for nearly a decade.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif couldn’t have acquiesced in the “Kargil Operation” because when it was initiated he was receiving his Indian counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in Lahore in what appeared to the world to be the final reconciliation between India and Pakistan. General Musharraf, in fact, was embarrassed meeting Vajpayee while his troops were attacking the Indian positions in Kargil. After winning the Kargil war, Vajpayee had observed that his visit had been “a stab in the back”.
General Musharraf took over in 1999 and was still casting about for relief to the economy, which had been badly crippled by the Kargil misadventure, when, in 2001, the fateful 9/11 happened. Under a plot hatched by al Qaeda in Pakistan, America was attacked by airborne suicide-bombers, triggering the Chapter Seven resolution at the United Nations that caused an international invasion of the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Musharraf joined the invasion and was thus rescued from the post-Kargil economic crisis.
The army, then, didn’t like him too much. There were at least two serious attempts on his life by army officers in cahoots with the non-state actors employed for infiltration into Kashmir. There were defections from the army as officers fled from special training camps and joined the Taliban-al Qaeda combine.
America came to his rescue, as narrated by Shuja Nawaz in his latest book, ‘The Battle for Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and Tough Neighbourhood’ (2019): “A very senior member of Musharraf’s government told me that he had been informed by senior staff of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi that during a visit of Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi to President George W Bush at Camp David, the idea was bruited that Musharraf should be encouraged to depart Pakistan with a promise of ‘protocol’ and property. As a result, the Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, provided $2 million, and the ruler of Abu Dhabi another $2 million.”
This accounts for Musharraf’s reluctance to leave the comforts of Dubai and enter Pakistan and face the court. But the bets are now on Musharraf rather than the Supreme Court.
Imran Khan, who had called him a traitor in 2007, is now reluctant to prosecute him, his party speaking in unison with the GHQ. The Opposition parties, their leaders facing court cases for corruption, have welcomed the verdict but are in no position to back the Supreme Court with street power. The TV discussions that began with a welcoming note are now inclining in favour of Musharraf; and the expert view is that, on appeal, Musharraf’s conviction will be overturned by a repentant Supreme Court.
This article first appeared in the print edition on December 21, 2019 under the title “General and a labyrinth”. The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.
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