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Musharraf: Traitor or Trophy?

by Khaled Ahmed
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Asif Hassan—AFP

Asif Hassan—AFP

The farce of the former Pakistani president and Army chief’s treason trial.

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]ervez Musharraf, the 70-year-old former president and Army chief of Pakistan, missed his day in court, again, on Jan. 2 after taking ill. Instead of conveying him to a special tribunal—constituted to try him for treason for sacking 60-plus judges, including then-chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, on Nov. 3, 2007—Musharraf was whizzed to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi. (Earlier the same day, Musharraf’s lawyers had accused the Nawaz Sharif government of threatening them.) His family rushed to his side as the country lapsed into cynicism refusing to accept as real the former strongman’s moment of apparent weakness.

But the harsh words, especially from the 25-year-old patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Peoples Party, have also elicited a sympathetic reaction. Two former PPP coalition partners—Altaf Hussain, self-exiled chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement party, and former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain—have come out in Musharraf’s support. Still, there is a kind of national consensus against the once-popular retired general who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008 and who can now be hanged if convicted. The Sharif government says it will cut no deals, accept no foreign pressure, give no safe passage, and that it will try Musharraf—the man who ousted Sharif’s government in 1999 and jailed him and his family. So will Musharraf become a burnt offering to the rising dominion of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan?

The instinct for revenge is high in the “national consensus,” which, in the simplest terms, represents the anger of those who wish generals offending against democracy punished as traitors. But there are countless others, people affected directly or indirectly by Musharraf’s decisions, who speak from rage of a personal nature. The skeptics remain convinced that, as in past cases, he will be let off the hook and spirited abroad on the basis of some deeply-laid international plot which includes America at worst and the Gulf sheikhs at best. The most cogent of Musharraf’s defenders surmise that an Army facing terrorists in the federally-administered tribal areas would not take the execution of its former chief as a morale-booster—it could even persuade the troops subconsciously to think poorly of their seniors, who can be hanged by the civilians they pretend to defend.

Musharraf says what he faces is not a fair trial, but vendetta. He has named some of the revenge-seekers: Mullah Fazlullah, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief; the Balochistan Liberation Army; elements of Islamabad’s militant Lal Masjid; Al Qaeda. Musharraf didn’t name the PPP and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or the judges of the special tribunal appointed by a Supreme Court whose members he had kept in confinement after deposing them. He didn’t equally name the religious parties and madrassahs aligned with the Taliban baying for his blood, but the blanket reference to Lal Masjid covers them.

The party in power hates him because he deposed its prime minister, Sharif, on Oct. 12, 1999—and charged him with treason, no less. Age and experience have not dimmed the instinct of revenge among Sharif’s circle. In a recent TV appearance, defense minister Khawaja Asif could not suppress his desire for revenge when he said he would like to see Musharraf consigned to the dungeons of Attock Fort. The opposition PPP hates him because it suspects Musharraf’s military establishment killed its leader, former premier Benazir Bhutto, on Dec. 27, 2007. Those in Parliament who should have no complaints against Musharraf have also taken to joining the angry chorus against him because populism is the order of the day, thanks to a passionately anti-Musharraf media. The entire Pakistani nation, drunk on anti-America Kool-Aid, wants his head to roll, which means Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, too, wants Musharraf punished—although Khan was once close to him.

The judges of the special tribunal hearing the treason case against Musharraf are a party in the “vendetta,” his lawyers say. Justice, a process of “closure” of violence, is said by experts to replace revenge, which is circular in nature and perpetual. A TV anchor recently mused whether the Sharif government and the judges would act like Nelson Mandela, who favored reconciliation, or Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina, who favors revenge.

In his most recent press appearances, Musharraf chose not to mention the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society of retired Army officers among the revenge-seekers. Crowded with anti-America and anti-India former Pakistan Army generals, the Society resents Musharraf for shutting down the proxy jihad against India in 2003, his not-unwise tilt toward the U.S. for economic assistance to bolster a state made economically wobbly after the nuclear tests of 1998, and the subsequent American hounding of Pakistani nuclear scientists for their involvement in proliferation. Musharraf is guilty, holds the Society, for joining in on an American war, “not our war,” in Afghanistan, and surrendering scores of Al Qaeda terrorists from Pakistani soil.

Instead, Musharraf said the Army supports him and should continue to stand by him. This statement was pointedly dismissed on TV by the bilious defense minister, who then appeared to contradict himself by suggesting that court-appearance-delaying explosives being discovered with alarming frequency along routes Musharraf has been meant to take to the special tribunal are being planted by his “sympathizers.” To most viewers, this meant elements within the Army.

The Army is a mixed bag, for Musharraf and for Pakistan. Musharraf returned from self-exile last March thinking that his old deputy, Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, would shelter him from the slings and arrows of the judges he had kicked out in 2007. But Kayani, too, succumbed to populism, which prompted him to pursue another treason case, the Memogate trial, against the PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari and ambassador Husain Haqqani. Kayani remained aloof in the Musharraf matter. At the same time, Musharraf’s lawyers have demanded that the case be processed in a military court. Sensing that the special-tribunal judges will go for the kill, Musharraf has also appealed for intercession to the new Army chief. Gen. Raheel Sharif is not expected to bail out Musharraf, although were he to do so, the court would likely “heed his advice” in the name of “national security.” General Sharif may also be daunted by the negative image of Musharraf to some in the Army, where many reported defections to Al Qaeda and the Taliban have highlighted a rising Islamist wave.

To his statement that the Army was en masse upset for him, a rebuttal has come from four retired generals: Aslam Beg, Hamid Gul, Ali Kuli Khan, and Shahid Aziz. Barring Khan, the others are known for their almost pathological hatred of the U.S. and an equally diseased reaction to the pro-U.S. policy followed by a pragmatic Musharraf after 9/11.

How sane are some of these anti-Musharraf generals? In his Urdu-language autobiography, How Long this Silence: Story of Passion and Madness of a Soldier, General Aziz himself wonders if he is actually a sane man: “Why am I full of contradiction? Why can’t I be balanced? Then I console myself with the thought that a pendulum has a balance too; what use is balance that is static and frozen? Real balance is in movement. One should be flying back and forth on a swing.” Pakistan’s anti-Musharraf media reports that Aziz’s book is “selling like hot cakes” in the Army. Of course, Aziz’s diagnosis of terrorism in Pakistan is also blindly pro-Taliban: “The bombs that kill innocent Pakistanis in bazaars and mosques are planted by friends of America, and this terrorism is done to persuade Pakistan to embrace America more closely, allow the government to pursue pro-America policies, and to alienate Pakistan from the mujahideen. But this trend of support to the killers of Muslims is open rebellion against Allah.”

These “unbalanced” former officers are in sync with the general political trend symbolized by last year’s all-parties conference approving “peace talks” with the Taliban and challenge to the U.S. against its drone strikes. General Gul openly confesses to his and his son’s relations with the Haqqani network in North Waziristan; and General Beg is awaiting trial for having rifled a bank to get at the money that he later distributed as bribes to obtain results of his choice in the 1990 election that brought Sharif to power. Gul and Beg head the anti-U.S. lobby comprising retired and serving Army officers that would overwhelm any military leader seeking a pragmatic solution to the challenge of extremism in Pakistan.

While some elements in the Army do appear to support their ex-chief, others have been and are clearly arrayed against Musharraf.

Populism-driven hatred of Musharraf owes to the media, which has caved to intimidation by the Taliban and found comfort in forgetting that it was Musharraf who had allowed unprecedented freedom to newspapers and TV channels in the first place. This freedom, held back for decades by elected governments, unleashed itself on his governance but tended to lose its legitimacy when it prostrated itself helplessly—and perhaps blamelessly—to the killing power of the Taliban and their terrorist affiliates. Freedom of expression can only be guaranteed by the state itself, but when the state becomes too weak to protect this freedom, then intimidation is the only governance any media will acknowledge.

Musharraf is not entirely blameless, even as the treason charge over the short-lived proclamation of emergency in November 2007 is far from indefensible. Columnist Ayaz Amir, also a former member of Sharif’s party, recently wrote: “The emergency proclamation, resulting in the suspension of the Constitution, was made on Nov. 3. Musharraf shed his uniform on Nov. 28. The emergency was lifted on Dec. 15. An election date had already been announced. This then was the shortest emergency in Pakistan’s history and it led to two immediate outcomes: an Army chief relinquishing his command, and the country moving toward elections. It was because of those elections that a democratic government came into being.”

Musharraf’s proclamation of emergency cited problems, since then grudgingly accepted, with the judges. “Whereas some hard-core militants, extremists, terrorists, and suicide bombers—who were arrested and being investigated—were ordered to be released [by the courts]. The persons so released have subsequently been involved in heinous terrorist activities, resulting in loss of human life and property. Militants across the country have, thus, been encouraged while law enforcement agencies [have been] subdued,” it reads. “I, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Chief of Army Staff, proclaim emergency throughout Pakistan. I hereby order and proclaim that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan shall remain in abeyance,” it says, adding that the matter had been “reviewed” with “the prime minister, governors of all four provinces, and with the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, chiefs of the armed forces, vice chief of Army staff, and corps commanders of the Pakistan Army.” The Shaukat Aziz government upheld Musharraf’s emergency. But he is being tried alone; something even his detractors concede as ludicrous.

Musharraf cannot be tried for the Oct. 12, 1999, coup since that was legitimized both by the Supreme Court, which included former chief justice Chaudhry on the coup-validating bench, and by Parliament. But can he perhaps be tried for the botched Kargil Operation earlier the same year, as the latest Sharif government has hinted?

In his book, Between Dreams and Realities: Some Milestones in Pakistan’s History, Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister Sharif’s adviser on foreign policy and national security, writes about the Kargil affair in some detail. In May 1999, Musharraf briefed Sharif on Kargil. This may not have been the first briefing, but it was for Aziz, who was among the dissenters—and what he said must be flagged as the intellectual thesis of the book: the Pakistan Army is tactical rather than strategic in its thinking. Aziz told the meeting: “I see that the tactics are brilliant, but the strategy does not seem viable. And the objectives of the operation are even less clear.”

Kargil was a disaster that pushed Pakistan and India to the verge of war until the U.S. intervened. But there’s a problem with attempting to try Musharraf and his fellow trigger-happy generals for Kargil. The generals were serving under an elected prime minister, Sharif, who may have actually given them the go-ahead, as the Aziz book implies he did.

At some point, Musharraf and the Army will also have to face the truth behind the assassination of Bhutto. The account of her target-killing in Rawalpindi has gradually revealed facts that the military establishment will find hard to answer. Heraldo Muñoz, who led the U.N. inquiry into the assassination and has authored Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan, says Musharraf, who had passed on the Army chief position to Kayani by then, bore “political responsibility” for not providing under-threat Bhutto with enough security. Muñoz suggests that elements within the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency could have assassinated Bhutto in collusion with nonstate actors.

Bhutto could very well have been eliminated by elements within the military establishment, with or without Musharraf’s knowledge, through a “contract” with the Taliban’s then-chief Baitullah Mehsud, whose incriminating taped post-assassination conversation was made public by the ISI. Last year, an investigator with the Federal Investigation Agency, Chaudhry Zulfiqar, was killed in Islamabad by two Al Qaeda agents, one of whom was the son of a retired Army brigadier. Days earlier, Zulfiqar had claimed on TV that he had traced some leads in Bhutto’s murder to ISI and Military Intelligence officers.

While some elements in the Army do appear to support their ex-chief, others have been and are clearly arrayed against Musharraf. When he called off the Kashmir jihad, he caused outrage within the armed forces and the nonstate actors being used in this asymmetrical war with India. Attempts were made on his life by some military and nonstate actors, including the one in Rawalpindi in which Jaish-e-Muhammad—the same organization that ran the jihadist training camps in Mansehra—was found to be involved. In 2005, when an earthquake hit Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Musharraf allowed Lashkar-e-Taiba to carry out rescue operations in the affected areas after ousting the various nongovernmental organizations that had reached there earlier. The son of Tariq Aziz, his national-security adviser, headed the mission as a member of Lashkar. Musharraf’s successor, Kayani, was to later discover that nonstate actors had become too powerful to challenge because of their nexus with the Army.

The Supreme Court, which will finally decide whether or not Musharraf will hang, has come under a lot of criticism during and after the tenure of chief justice Chaudhry. It is well known that most apex courts of the world tend to be conservative rather than liberal, but in the case of Pakistan this conservatism is overlaid with a realistic tendency to avoid confrontation with the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine that the weakened state can no longer confront.

One case that may never be laid at the door of the court pertains to Lal Masjid, which was attacked in June 2007 by Army commandos after proof of insurgent vigilante acts by its clerics. The reason for this populist “forgiveness” of Lal Masjid is reinterpretation of what really happened; but the fact is the clerics of the Islamabad mosque were favored by the court through forced compensatory allotments of land where the whole complex destroyed by the Army could be recreated.

Columnist Pervez Hoodbhoy writes: “In early January 2007, Lal Masjid had demanded the immediate rebuilding of eight illegally-constructed mosques that had been knocked down by the [Capital Development Authority]. Days later, an immediate enforcement of the Shariah system in Islamabad was demanded. Thereafter, armed vigilante groups from this madrassah roamed the streets and bazaars. They kidnapped ordinary citizens and policemen, threatened shopkeepers, and repeated the demands of the Taliban and other tribal militants fighting the Pakistan Army … Lal Masjid and the adjoining Jamia Hafsa had engaged in a full-scale bloody insurrection against the Pakistani government, state, and public.”

Musharraf is not entirely blameless, even as the treason charge over the short-lived proclamation of emergency is far from indefensible.

The clerics running the mosque had set up a parallel government in Islamabad operating an unlicensed FM radio station, occupied a government building, set up a parallel system of justice, made bonfires out of seized cassettes and CDs, received the Saudi ambassador on the mosque premises, and negotiated with the Chinese ambassador for the release of his country’s nationals kidnapped by Lal Masjid militants. The commando attack, supported to the end by Bhutto herself, finally came amid great pressure from the media in its cause.

Built in 1965, Lal Masjid took its name from its red walls and interiors. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, it played its role in recruiting and training local warriors to fight alongside the Afghan mujahideen. Its clerics enjoyed patronage from influential members of the government and the military establishment. Founder Maulana Abdullah Ghazi—dead in 1998 from his running sectarian battle with the Shia community—was a veteran jihadist who had fought against the Soviets and had close contacts with radicals like Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Its direct patron within Al Qaeda was Sheikh Essa, who, according to slain journalist Saleem Shahzad, wanted to make it a base for an apostatizing assault on the Pakistan Army.

In more ways than one, the unfolding drama of Lal Masjid signaled the end of Musharraf’s period in power. He was broken on the wheel of the Army’s incapacity to survive its nexus with the jihadist brood it had incubated. In The Scorpion’s Tail: the Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan and How It Threatens America, Zahid Hussain notes: “Lal Masjid clerics Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid had learned their militancy from their father, Abdullah Ghazi, who received funding and guidance from the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies for jihad. After the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, Ghazi became close to Al Qaeda.” In 1998, he traveled to Kandahar to pay homage to Mullah Omar and took his younger son along. During this visit, that enabled him to spend an hour alone with bin Laden, Abdul Rashid became radicalized. At the end of the meeting, he picked up bin Laden’s glass of water, drank from it, and said: “I drank from your glass so that Allah would make me a warrior like you.”

Two months after the Lal Masjid siege, an 18-year-old boy blew himself up inside the high-security base of Zarrar Company, the elite commando unit responsible for the Lal Masjid operation. This inside job killed 22 commandos. Hussain notes: “One of the officers identified [as the planners of this attack] was Capt. Khurram Ashiq, who had served in Zarrar Company. Ashiq died in Helmand fighting on the side of Al Qaeda. His brother Maj. Haroon Ashiq, too, worked for Al Qaeda, killing [Special Service Group] commander Maj. Gen. Feisal Alvi in Islamabad.” (He was acquitted by an antiterrorism court in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail.)

Back to Musharraf. Last June, addressing the National Assembly, Prime Minister Sharif said Musharraf had twice abrogated the Constitution and would be tried under Article 6 of the Constitution: “The federal government’s decision is in line with the Supreme Court’s decision and the Sindh High Court verdict which firmly held the view that holding the Constitution in abeyance on Nov. 3, 2007, by Musharraf constituted an act of high treason under Article 6 of the Constitution 1973.”

Would this suffice to convict Musharraf? Veteran lawyer S. M. Zafar says: “Suspension or keeping the Constitution in abeyance was not an offense on Nov. 3, 2007, as it was added to Article 6 through 2010’s 18th Amendment.” So where does the national consensus stand in light of the law? Or will the law simply do what the “people want”?

The operative part of the Supreme Court judgment in the Sindh High Court Bar Association case says: “From the above, the conclusions drawn are that Musharraf in the garb of Emergency-plus and the Provisional Constitutional Order made amendments to the Constitution by self-acquired powers which are all unconstitutional, unauthorized, without any legal basis; hence, without any legal consequences.” Against this, the argument advanced is: it doesn’t say that this is grounds for a case of treason under Article 6.

Many jaded discussants on TV talk shows don’t believe Musharraf will be hanged or even be prosecuted; others think Musharraf is being tried to distract attention from the spreading sectarian war in Pakistan. A few, considered close to Sharif, seem to be advising him to back off before the Army brass reacts in favor of Musharraf.

Under Kayani, the Army seemed to appear weak-kneed while facing two centers of possible challenge to its supremacy—the nonstate actors and the political consensus—because of populism, which has undermined several institutions required to render verdicts on the basis of the national interest regardless of how the people may feel. Some in the Army may like to see Musharraf hanged under this new unspoken doctrine. Tragically, the national consensus is veering to a shift of loyalty from the state to the Taliban which may require Musharraf to become the trophy the nation will present to the state’s enemies as an earnest of its allegiance.

From our Jan. 18, 2014, issue.

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1 comment

Assad February 6, 2014 - 2:24 am

A good man being made to pay for the collective sins of the past 60 years. This is the unfortunate reality of the situation. Who better to make an example of than a minority general who was selected for exactly the reason that he would have no support in the military due to his ethnic background. Others walk as free men despite having committed the same offenses as the former general.

The media, instead of being fair to him, is disgustingly and unobjectively biased against him to please their right leaning masters. Since groveling to the extremist elements to the right has become an obligation for the Pakistani media and politicians, the only statesman that Pakistan has had in the past 2 decades is now being harassed in kangaroo courts by a vindictive prime minister, who is as immature as he was when serving in the cabinet of General Zia, and his allies in the judiciary who do not know the basics of justice. The dice is so heavily loaded against Musharraf in these courts that to expect these courts to pass anything other than a vindictive guilty verdict would be a miracle.

With each passing day, Pakistan is proving the case that bigotry and hypocrisy is alive and multiplying. When no one in the country can stand-up to ask why the Lal Masjid extremists challenged the government or why did Nawab Bugti pick up the gun to challenge the GoP or why is it that Musharraf is being hounded for declaring an emergency rather than taking over in 1999 with a cast of hundreds, then it means we have lost our moral compass. We are doomed to ignominy and further suffering because we have chosen to be hypocrites and have decided to not stand up for the truth.

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