By Rob Crilly
One man in Pakistan would have watched last Saturday’s election results come rolling with more alarm than anyone else. Pervez Musharraf was the general who cut short Nawaz Sharif’s second term in office by seizing control of the country and arresting the prime minister.How the tables have turned. Now Mr Musharraf is under house arrest, confined to two rooms of his smart villa just outside Islamabad, and his old foe Mr Sharif is preparing to move back into Prime Minister’s House for a third term. Things could not have turned out much worse for the former military ruler.
But quietly, behind the scenes, it looks as if the stage is being set for Mr Musharraf to make a rapid departure. Informed commentators whisper that his old pals in the military are reaching out to the courts – where the 69-year-old faces a slew of cases – preparing the ground so he can leave before Mr Sharif is sworn in.
That would be handy for Mr Sharif. He has enough problems with a powerful military establishment without also being handed responsibility for dealing with their former chief of staff.
On Friday night, one piece in the jigsaw was slotted into place. A lawyer, who had initiated one of the cases against Mr Musharraf – the one with the most chance of success, alleging that he had arrested and imprisoned lawyers as he desperately tried to hold on to office in 2007 – announced he had withdrawn his complaint.
Talking to Dawn on Friday, Advocate Ghumman said he had withdrawn the complaint in the larger national interest. “I think that the trial of Gen Musharraf in such a state of affairs is not in the national interest and, therefore, I have decided to withdraw my complaint,” he said.
It will be up to the courts to decide whether to halt proceedings. But isn’t it curious? Not only have the courts toned down their anti-Musharraf rhetoric in recent weeks but now one of the cases is on shaky foundations.
This has always been the issue. Ever since Mr Musharraf made his ill-conceived return, the question has been how to get him out of the country while allowing everyone involved to save face. The courts won’t want to back down, given the way he treated the lawyers. Nor will Mr Sharif. Bringing both into conflict with an army that won’t give up its man. Hardly the route to a stable Pakistan.
Musharraf’s escape has become something of an Islamabad parlour game, constructing ever more complex ruses to get Mr Musharraf to Dubai or London. Some suggestions:
He is taken ill and must go to Dubai for specialist treatment – never to return
His 95-year-old mother is taken ill and Mr Musharraf is given special compassionate grounds to travel to her bedside in Dubai – never to return
He receives a presidential pardon from President Asif Ali Zardari, who in exchange is given a nod and a wink that corruption cases against him be shelved, all lubricated with Saudi cash for Nawaz Sharif’s government
Whatever eventually happens you can be sure of two things. The solution will be very Pakistani. And Mr Musharraf will be gone before anyone realises quite what is happening.
First published in daily Telegrah on 18th May, 2013.