Musharraf goes into exile again for good? By Manzoor Ahmed


Although he has assured the government of his return, by all available indications, Pakistan’s retired General Pervez Musharraf has gone into exile, yet again, for good.
He was allowed by the government for “urgent medical treatment”, following a Supreme Court order lifting a ban on his foreign travel.
His first exile was after he stepped down from power in 2009. This time the exile could be indefinite. It appears to be the outcome of an understanding between him and the civilian government led by Prime Minister Nawaz sharif, whom he had toppled in 1999. And this deal seems to have been silently brokered by the army.
For the record, after stepping down in 2008, Musharraf had been away from the country for about four years, shuttling between Dubai where his mother is, London where he was provided official British security till it became clear that he was avoiding arrest at home and to various American and European universities, making good money giving lectures.
His London stay had become somewhat untenable after he floated a party from there and vowed to return home, in time for the 2013 national assembly election. His supporters who would visit him in Britain and enthusiastic social media campaign appeared to convince that he could return to “save Pakistan”, as he would put it. His return to Karachi was a damp welcome by small crowds. It turned out that succumbing to the adulation on the social media, he had walked into a trap of his own making.
All his moves to return to public life were thwarted. He was disqualified from contesting the election. Post-election, he was trapped into several cases and was put under house arrest. He was made to appear before court, something no Pakistani general had done, leave alone a former army chief and president. As the number of cases, and seriousness of allegations against him grew – and they included treason – he did not appear before any court and this was quietly ensured by the army.
He reportedly refused a deal under which he could return to exile. The ‘emotional’ angle about his wanting to be by the side of his ailing old mother was also played out.
Now, the word sent out is that he would be away, for medical treatment of a damaged vertebra, a problem he has said has been nagging for a decade and has worsened.
This may seem fine, except that the outing is indefinite, for “a few weeks or months.” Enough room has been left to let him stay abroad and if things get too hot at home for his evading his trial in several cases, he can be accused of ‘misusing’ the court and government permission.
Till that situation occurs, Mushrraf would be safe and away. “Not even the interior minister could pretend that Mr Musharraf’s return is likely,” said Dawn newspaper in its editorial.
Even if he does, his trials and tribulations may be over for good. The newspaper said: “There remains the possibility that Mr Musharraf may in fact return to Pakistan. But even if he does, the government has surely already signalled the end of its prosecution of the former dictator.”
“The government had tried to pass the buck to the Supreme Court and when the Supreme Court returned it firmly, the PML-N apparently had nothing left to offer. Surrender has come rather meekly,” it said.
The general perception is that the Nawaz government began by slapping several cases and prosecuting him. But it lacked a strategy and in many of the cases, including the killing of Baloch rebel leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, he was exonerated.
There has been no immediate reaction from political parties except that everyone realizes that it is a deal – “Mukh mukha” as it is called in Pakistan.
PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has been critical, on the expected lines, that Musharraf has been allowed to go despite his alleged involvement of the assassination of his mother and former premier, Benazir Bhutto.
The Islamist parties may have no serious objection to Muharraf’s going. Even Lal Masjid cleric who was gunning for Musharraf for the 2007 seige of his mosque would not have serious objection since the army’s role from behind the scene is clear and he would not want to annoy the military.
Nawaz has had a history of confronting the military and lost power twice. Third time around, he did not want to offend the army. His choice of Gen. Raheel Sharif as the army chief has proved to be correct and a boon to him in political terms.
Not only that, Raheel has unleashed the campaign against militants that, in the long run, has benefitted Nawaz politically and allowed a measure of political stability. Over the last two years, he has allowed the army chief a lot of room, even if at his own cost, and his projection as not just a soldier. Raheel has been visiting foreign countries and holding talks with top leaders of China, the US and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the two Sharifs have quite often moved together as a team.
Given this relative comfort, and continuity in power, Nawaz seems to have played a small price in letting Musharraf off the hook. He can, however, derive some satisfaction that he has done to Mushrraf what the latter had done to him by exiling him (Nawaz) and the entire family to Saudi Arabia for ten years.

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