Pakistan’s fallen former military dictator Pervez Musharraf has been ordered to face court in Islamabad on Tuesday, his ignominy complete as he faces not only a charge he committed treason against his country, but the very real potential he could be executed for it.
For Nawaz Sharif, watching from the Prime Ministerial residence a few hundred metres up Constitution Avenue from the Supreme Court, the sight of Musharraf humbled before the bench presents an interesting tableau – not least because the view was very different 14 years ago.
In 1999, Nawaz Sharif was a deeply unpopular Prime Minister, leading a beleaguered government, when Musharraf, then the Chief of Army Staff, launched a sudden, bloodless coup d’etat.
Musharraf’s soldiers seized airports and surrounded the Prime Minister’s house.
He declared a state of emergency, sacked the country’s judges, and had Sharif jailed and exiled.
Musharraf would rule Pakistan for the next nine years, before the country’s merciless politics caught up with him too, and he was forced to flee ahead of impeachment.
Musharraf has been accused of complicity in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, as well as a slew of other crimes, but it is for his primary act, abrogating the constitution, that he faces trial on Tuesday.
For Sharif, on a personal level, the temptation must be strong to see vengeance unleashed upon Musharraf, and the fullest possible punishment brought to bear.
Musharraf’s very existence is a standing insult to Sharif, a reminder of what went before, and a cautionary demonstration of the very real limits on his power.
Just two months ago, Sharif won a commanding mandate in Pakistan’s general election. But for all his current electoral strength, Sharif, as much as any leader before him, must be acutely conscious of the power wielded by the men in khaki in his country.
However, for several reasons, the prosecution or otherwise of Pervez Musharraf is a more nuanced problem for Sharif than it might otherwise appear.
Pursuing Musharraf will seem, to many, as simply more of the vengeful personality politics that has poisoned Pakistan.
It is a diversion, too, from the immediate problems Sharif came to power promising to fix – quelling an extremist insurgency, jump-starting a moribund economy, building desperately-needed physical infrastructure, and simply keeping the lights on by ending the country’s long-running power crisis.
As well, Sharif must know that the Pakistan army breeds, above all else, loyalty.
Musharraf is still a military man, one of theirs, and efforts to prosecute him could be provocation for yet another conflict between a democratically-elected government and an army that wields so much unseen power.
Rule of law
But for Musharraf’s trial to be abandoned because it is difficult is hardly helpful for Pakistan either.
A trial for the former dictator would demonstrate to a new generation of generals the supremacy of the rule of law, and of elected governments, in a democracy.
This country’s short independent history has been pockmarked by three military takeovers, all of which have proved disastrous. Musharraf’s trial, in particular his conviction, would perhaps discourage another ambitious general from trying again.
That impunity for Pakistan’s military should end can only benefit the country.
But as is so often the way in Pakistan, a solution might be found for the Musharraf problem.
His elderly mother is ill in Dubai, and a “humanitarian” gesture from the government might allow him to slip out of the country never to return.
A deal might be brokered with the courts or the military that would allow Musharraf to serve a life prison term instead of seeing him hanged.
Return from exile
However it turns out, the predicament currently confronting Musharraf is, in every sense, a product of his own creation.
Earlier this year, the general returned from his self-imposed exile in London and Dubai planning to lead his newly-formed party in the election.
He came back under the misguided belief he was popular in his homeland, and bearing a delusion he would be returned to power. His party floundered at the election, and a court ruling banned him from even contesting a seat.
Musharraf’s megalomania may cost him his life, or at least the rest of it in jail.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.