Divided debate on ailing Gen Musharraf

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher acknowledged for vigorously questioning Hegelian rationalism, is believed to have once said: “The real freedom is to appreciate your limits.” Judging by this standard, former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani sounded like the most “liberated” politician of Pakistan. But first I need to explain the context.

After much cajoling, General Musharraf finally agreed to resign after holding the election in 2008. Until then, he had been ruling Pakistan with absolute authority as a military dictator since 1999. His enthusiastic joining the American-led “War on Terrorism” provoked a deadly blowback in Pakistan, leading to thousands of deaths. Under his watch, hundreds of “terrorists” were also handed over to the Americans for soul-breaking interrogation in the dungeons of countries not known for respecting human rights.

With a peculiar version of “enlightened moderation,” General Musharraf had also tried to act like a caring patriarch, committed to provide Pakistan with “true and not sham democracy by grooming it from the grassroots.” But before reaching there, he forced two leading politicians, Nawaz Sharif and Ms. Benazir Bhutto, to live for many years in exile.

In the end, however, he felt forced to strike a deal with Ms. Bhutto and desired to co-opt her in his system. The deal couldn’t take off, because the first woman prime minister of the Muslim world was murdered by a group of brutal terrorists in Rawalpindi while campaigning for elections on December 2007. Her murder led to the formation of a government led by her party, Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) in 2008 and it was just not willing to work with Musharraf.


He had to resign and left the Presidential palace. After spending some time in his expansive farmhouse in a posh suburb of Islamabad, he left for Dubai and planned returning to active politics with a bang. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif had returned to the Prime Minister’s Office after the election of 2013. Musharraf had toppled his second government in October 1997. But Nawaz Sharif was not so keen to punish him for that.


The Supreme Court led by Iftikhar Chaudhry was not willing to forget and forgive, however. He pressured the Nawaz government to try him for enforcing “Emergency-plus” in November 2007, perceived as the imposition of second martial law by General Musharraf. After much hesitation, the Nawaz government eventually felt compelled to invoke Article 6 of our Constitution, prescribing severe punishment for violating the Constitution. A Special Court, comprising senior high court judges, was then established to try him.


The trial against him could not proceed, though. After attending the first court hearing, Musharraf announced not feeling well and was rushed to the Military Hospital in Rawalpindi for ‘emergency treatment’. After spending many weeks there, he eventually left again for Dubai with no intent of returning soon.


General Musharraf had not been feeling well for the past many weeks and now he is reported to have entered a “critical phase.” His family wants to bring him back to Pakistan, but apprehended that the government led by the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif might resist his return.


But to assuage the family, Khawaja Asif, the Defense Minister, wrote a Tweet to commit forgive and forget dealing with General Musharraf. Through an endorsing Tweet, Nawaz Sharif had also committed the same.


At the outset of the Senate sitting Wednesday morning, Senator Mushtaq Ahmed felt too agitated about such “obsequious messages for a military dictator who had treated our constitution like dirt, not once but twice, during his rule.” He also kept recalling the case of treason that was established against him.


Ironically, Mushtaq Ahmad represents the Jamaat-e-Islami and this party had remained one of the major rather most pampered collaborators of another military dictator, General Zia, for many years. His fury against another in the Khaki was really surprising for many.


Things turned doubly ironic, when Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri of Jamiat-e-Ulma-e-Islam (JUI) ferociously grabbed the floor to plead for sympathetic treatment for a strongman of yesteryears now heading to a gloomy autumn. Doing this, he also remembered times he and his leader- Maulana Fazlur Rehman - had to spend in jails during prime years of General Musharraf’s dictatorship.


Senator Ejaz Chaudhry of Pakistan Tehrek-e-Insaf (PTI) also surprised the press gallery by firmly opposing the idea of forgiving and forgetting General Musharraf. Driven with delirious anger, he kept recalling how the successive military dictators didn’t let the democratic system establish and flourish in Pakistan.


Viciously taking on the ‘military dictators,’ Ejaz Chaudhry conveniently forgot that his leader, i.e., Imran Khan had gleefully welcomed General Musharraf’s takeover in October 1999. Later, he had also campaigned to seek votes for his getting ‘elected’ as the President of Pakistan through a clearly sham ‘referendum.’


Instead of focusing on the fate of General Musharraf, another PTI Senator, Faisal Javed, preferred to wonder in a taunting tone as to how Nawaz Sharif could “forgive” the former President. With forced contempt, he kept rubbing in the point that Nawaz Sharif had also been sent to jail “for committing grave crimes of corruption.” Instead of atoning his sin by spending time there, he “faked enduring a fatal ailment and sought the permission to leave for London to save his life”. He pressed that instead of acting generously, “the wanted criminal (Nawaz Sharif) should instantly return to Pakistan and surrender himself to the law of the land.”


During the heat of pro and anti speeches regarding the possible treatment of General Musharraf, Yousaf Raza Gillani, a former Prime Minister, asked for the floor. With a straight face, without any hint of irony or deadpan, he made a spontaneous remark to underline the reality of power dynamics in Pakistan. “General Musharraf,” he recalled, “had left the country without seeking our (Parliament’s) approval and for returning, he doesn’t need it either.”


Yet, humbly but candidly admitting ‘the limits’ of our Constitution and Parliament etc., Gillani could not forget that General Musharraf had also put him in jail for around five years. But in the end was forced to take the oath from him when the national assembly had elected him as the prime minister after the election of 2008.


I strongly believe that the spontaneously honest comments of Yousaf Raza Gillani should have worked like the wakeup call for our worthy senators. They surely need to abandon the illusion that they savored any authority to decide how to treat a military dictator, if and when he wants to return to the country.





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