In comfort zone

January 12, 2014

In comfort zone

He returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile in March 2013 to ‘save Pakistan’ and to reclaim power in Pakistan, this time with the help of popular support. But things don’t seem to be working for General Pervez Musharraf and it appears his days in Pakistan may be numbered.

He has been in a military hospital for many days now because of what is claimed to be heart-related health issues. His opponents say he is only trying to avoid a court appearance on treason charges. His party members and close friends say he is heartbroken because of his betrayal at the hands of his past subordinates and friends. He wants to teach them a lesson which can only be done by staying back in the country. Others fear, in the process, he could become an example himself.

Beyond these seemingly obvious developments, there are not too invisible signs of an institutional clash at many levels. Beginning with the now-resolved tension between the former president and the army and the age-old civil-military conflict, it has moved on to one set of political parties pitched against the other, depending on its politics.

One thing is certain: Musharraf is now within the comfort zone of his parent institution.

Things had come to a point where the army had to take a decision. Analysts are of the view that initially the issue of Musharraf’s trial was not discussed between the army and the political government. There was an unsaid arrangement that matters would be decided as per the constitution.

Mian Nawaz Sharif, whose government was ousted in 1999 by Musharraf, approved the formation of a special court to try him only for imposing emergency in 2007.

"Assurances were given that Musharraf would not be humiliated. But some leaders of PML-N have been acting as spoilsports because they think Musharraf’s ‘safe exit’ would be fatal for their party."

Choosing only 2007 has also stirred a huge controversy; all democracy-loving people think that October 12, 1999 was an action against the entire country while the emergency plus of 2007 only hit the judiciary, led by Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The nature of the case is one reason why there is sympathy for Musharraf from within the army. This is believed to be a ‘politically motivated’ case, more so when there are allegations of bias against the bench constituted to try him. "There was an understanding between the former chief justice Chaudhry and Mian Nawaz Sharif that Musharraf will be tried for treason," says a Lahore-based political analyst.

Whatever the motivation, the political developments of recent weeks have put the PML-N government in a tough situation. "The political temperature would keep rising as long as his case remains pending," says analyst Dr Ayesha Siddiqa. "He is trying to poke Nawaz Sharif where it hurts the most. He is trying to force Sharif to make a mistake. With every passing day it would become tougher for the government to not try him."

The political cost is beginning to mount already, she says. "His safety is part of army’s core interest. Since his arrival in Pakistan and the initiation of the various court cases, he has received all kinds of support and protection from the army. However, the current army leadership would like to defend him cautiously and not at the cost of the army’s reputation which was rebuilt after a lot of effort," says Siddiqa. "It seems this time it is not the civilians but a retired army general who is risking things for everyone."

Highly placed sources in the capital, which are close to people in power corridors, say things were going according to the script but Interior Ministry initiated some moves which made the army leadership suspicious. Shahbaz Sharif played a very important role to bring about normalcy between the army and the civilian government, especially on Musharraf. Assurances were given that Musharraf would not be humiliated, they say. But some leaders of PML-N have been trying to act as spoilsports because they think Musharraf’s "safe exit would be fatal for their party".

This is said to have compelled the military establishment to give a go-ahead to its political allies to give the issue a "political angle" and take it away from the legal sphere. MQM’s chief Altaf Hussain various speeches and statements, some directly involving Musharraf and others not, are seen in this context.

The other political player who has come out in full support of Musharraf is the PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. More recently, he has proposed a constitution amendment bill in the Senate to replace the word "high treason" in Article 6 with "offense against state".

Interestingly, the military decided to dispense with Musharraf by 2007 at the time of the Lawyers’ Movement. Sources within the forces say he could not understand the changing political and social scenario during his time in power and lost key political allies of the military. The next Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani did a lot of work to win back military’s support among politicians, media and society, they say.

General retired Talat Masood tells TNS that political parties like PML-Q and politicians like Sheikh Rasheed have been trying to use the opportunity to gain maximum benefits. "They are natural allies of the army but they have been trying to use Musharraf to hurt Nawaz Sharif as much as possible," he says.

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa does not agree that only those political parties which have been raising voice for Musharraf are political allies of the army. "There are allies who are open about it and there are those who do not go public with their pro-army stance," she says. "The current civilian leadership has understood that it cannot challenge military’s core interests.

Explaining the Musharraf issue in the context of the civil-military relations, Siddiqa says the PML-N government has outsourced national security policymaking and its implementation to the armed forces. "His government has also brought to life the National Security Council (NSC). This very idea of the NSC was the main bone of contention between the army and Nawaz Sharif during his last tenure which ended in a coup. Issues such as relations with America and India and control over nuclear weapons remain with the army. You have army’s support in PML-N and also in PPP," she says.

In comfort zone