Musharraf’s return was never a dull moment in Pakistan as the elements that covertly run it have always something up their sleeves to immediately draw the attention of the people towards one issue or the other. Most of the times their intention is to divert attention of the people from any matter that either negatively reflects upon them or could or impugn their judgement with respect of important national matter. One such issue gaining widespread traction currently is the purported return of former army dictator Gen (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, who is under a serious sentence by a High Court judgement, to Pakistan. Musharraf surreptitiously left Pakistan under the shadow of arrest in 2016 and his departure raised many questions about the covert support rendered to him by the powerful military establishment. Before his departure abroad it was reported that his former institution tried hard to arrange some kind of settlement with the civilian government that was in power but since he had forcibly removed an earlier government of the same political party such reconciliation was not possible.
Musharraf toppled the democratically elected government of PMLN in 1999 and arrested the frontline leadership of the party including Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shehbaz Sharif and did not stop at arresting them but also exiled them abroad through a contentious agreement purporting that the Sharif family will not come back to Pakistan for ten years. Musharraf was hamstrung after rebelling against the government as he could not claim the coveted office of so-called Chief Martial Law Administrator and had to contend with becoming the only chief executive of Pakistani state and that too after his takeover of power was endorsed by a compromised judiciary. He went on to organise a kangaroo election and became the president, an office he kept till 2008 when he resigned to avoid impeachment. Since then he has spent most of his time in self-imposed exile in the UK and the Middle East.
Musharraf’s hold on power became extremely tenuous just after two years but he was saved by 9/11 in a repeat of a similar succour provided to an earlier military dictator Zia by the Afghan jihad once the USSR invaded Afghanistan. Musharraf lost no time in aligning himself with the American-led NATO alliance and made Pakistan a front-line state during the war on terror. His role in this war became notorious for oppression and rampant human rights abuses, especially in its latter years. In 2007 he suspended the constitution, imposed martial law, sacked the chief justice of the Supreme Court and arrested activists and lawyers prompting mass protests. He was an arrogant and headstrong individual having an open aversion to democratic constitutional rule and was widely reported to have commented that he cared nothing about constitution as to him it was just a piece of paper to be thrown in the dustbin.
During his rule, Nawaz Sharif and another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, living in exile, were barred from contesting elections. Bhutto returned to Pakistan amid death threats in 2007. She claimed she had faced threats from Musharraf. Many accuse that Musharraf had encouraged the 11 May riots in Karachi in 2007 in which 48 people died. Musharraf is also accused of encouraging the enforced disappearances of political dissenters and of unleashing an insurgency in Balochistan when he launched a military operation in the province. It was also during his rule that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi. Musharraf allowed drone attacks on former tribal areas and provided safe haven to certain factions of the Afghan Taliban.
Musharraf’s defenders say that private media made progress under his rule but many media experts deny this impression and confirm that the introduction of private media actually happened under Benazir Bhutto. In actual fact Musharraf introduced systematic censorship and all private channels were blocked by the military regime in November 2007 for covering restoration of the movement for restoration of judiciary. Childishly self-confident Musharraf returned from self-imposed exile in March 2013 in a disastrous bid to contest a seat in that year’s general elections. High-treason legal proceedings against him began in 2014 but in 2016 Musharraf was allowed to leave the country on medical grounds. In 2019, Musharraf was found guilty of treason for suspending the constitution and imposing emergency rule in 2007. He was sentenced to death. The judgment was later reversed.
The 78-year-old Musharraf is suffering from amyloidosis, a rare disease that occurs when an abnormal protein builds up in organs and interferes with normal functions. He has been in hospital in the UAE for the past few weeks and his family says he is not expected to make a recovery. Local media reported that he has expressed a desire to spend the rest of his life in his home country, a wish that was quickly endorsed by a military spokesperson. Similarly his political nemesis Nawaz Sharif has announced that he holds no grudges against Musharraf prompting many analysts to speculate that the return of Musharraf has been very cleverly tied with the return of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan. TW