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The seven-star custody of a Pakistani dictator

Mansoor Jafar

Published: Updated:

Former dictator General (retired) Pervez Musharraf is in judicial custody these days. This historic arrest is being branded as his much wanted retribution, however, it is not the right time to jump to such conclusions.

No doubt, the first ever arrest of a military dictator is an unprecedented phenomena in the history of Pakistan. After Musharraf’s arrest, the law was set into motion. The former military dictator is playing on a very weak political wicket with reference to his lack of public support. However, diplomatic circles in the federal capital speak another story. They say the retired four-star General, detained in his seven-star sprawling farm house in the outskirts of Islamabad, should not be considered so weak that he cannot defend himself, if there should be any real need for that.

The arrest and sentencing of retired army top brass is a far cry in Pakistan. Friends of Musharraf are rejoicing due to this notion. It is yet another stark reality that after the detention of their Facebook liked commando, cyberspace friends of Pervez Musharraf are not even able to access him online as he is in heavily guarded detention.

Set to rely on foreign friends?

The events so far have not witnessed any effort on the part of Pakistan’s strong army to save their former commander-in-chief. But, on the other hand, rumors buzzing around Islamabad suggest that foreign friends of Musharraf will drive him out of the country one way or the other, as they did in case of notorious CIA operative Raymond Davis. Raymond was held on charges of the deliberate murder of two Pakistani citizens in Lahore. His patrons made all out efforts to fly him out from Pakistan despite violent mass protests on the streets.

Musharraf chose a very appropriate time to return to Pakistan because he knew that the caretaker government had a limited mandate and no strict action could be taken against him

Mansoor Jafar

The Pakistan People’s Party paid a heavy political price for the return of Raymond Davis to U.S. soil because the case inflicted a split in the party. The former ruling house was divided on the issue of whether the alleged CIA agent enjoyed diplomatic immunity or not. The then foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmoud Qureishi, and his team at the foreign office took a tough legal and diplomatic position that the U.S. operator Raymond Davis did not enjoy diplomatic immunity. Despite this official stance, the U.S. operative was made to enjoy immunity and was allowed to leave the country overnight, courtesy of President Asif Zardari.

The majority of third world countries are prone to the ills of a dictatorship, therefore, their people have all the reasons to celebrate high-profile political litigation in their respective countries, as and when it takes place. Pakistan is not an exception. The scenes of Pervez’s court appearance running on TV screens have reminded me of the trial of Egypt’s one-time iron man, Hosni Mubarak. Television footage showed families of martyred of Tahrir square protesters rallying outside the police academy court room and Mubarak was presented in the court while heavily guarded.

All a mere façade?

Commenting on these scenes a veteran politician sitting beside me said, “it’s an eye-wash. This is an effort to prove Mubarak is an ill-fated ruler who was not given a proper trial and was punished in haste. These scenes will develop sympathy for Mubarak in the hearts of the Egyptian people, they can move the judges also.” The later court sessions and the outcome of Mubarak’s trial so far have proved the words of the veteran political leader to be true.

The hue and cry in the Pakistani media about the trial of Pervez Musharraf is driving things to same fate as that of Hosni Mubarak. The tactful silence of Musharraf’s political adversaries and the silence of the Pakistani army shows the hidden but real strength of the detained general. Although Pervez Musharraf was disqualified from standing in the May 11 election, he is getting more coverage and time in media outlets than he would have earned while doing the election campaign.

The court proceedings and appearance of the retired general in those trials seems to me nothing but a replica of the Mubarak trial. In fact, the caretaker government issued a written response wherein they refused to initiate proceedings against Pervez Musharraf under Article 6 (high treason) of the Constitution, saying it was not in their mandate to do so.

The interim government said it had a limited mandate, which was mainly to ensure the holding of a free and fair election. The government, in its reply submitted to the court, also explained its reasons for not implementing measures on such an issue.

Looking into the reply filed by incumbent caretaker rulers, the fate of Musharraf will remain hanging in balance until the formation of a new government after May 11 elections. After today’s reply it is evident that Musharraf chose a very appropriate time to return to Pakistan because he knew that the caretaker set-up had a limited mandate and no strict action could be taken against him. Congratulation general, your dream came true!

The caretaker’s caring reply (in terms of the Musharraf case) has not only enabled him to breathe a sigh of relief, but also provided Musharraf’s former uniformed friends and international guarantors ample time to carve out their strategy for the post-election period.


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Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.