March 16, 2010

Why Musharraf will not return to Pakistan
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
By Tariq Butt

ISLAMABAD: Lack of any political support, even from his beneficiaries, existence of grave threats to his life, three registered criminal cases and at least five petitions filed in superior and subordinate courts, seeking his trial on different charges including high treason, are the major impediments in former dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s return to Pakistan in near future, his former political colleagues say.

His public owning of a political party, still in an embryonic stage, which his loyalist Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif is trying to get registered with the Election Commission (EC) is just to keep himself relevant in domestic politics and attract leaders from other political parties especially the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and its like-minded group, signalling them that he would come back one day.

Constitutional experts say while taking up the application for registration of the new party, the EC will take note of the stinging remarks of the Supreme Court contained in its July 31, 2009 judgment against Musharraf for violating the constitution through his November 3, 2007 actions. The apex court had stopped short of recommending trial of the former president for high treason.

“I don’t think any politician worth the name will join the new party. But some of those who are neither here nor there in the political field may choose to align themselves with it just to be in the limelight,” PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain told The News when asked to comment on Saif’s venture launched at the behest of Musharraf. But he was sure that Musharraf would not return because the political environment in Pakistan was not at all conducive to his presence here.

Once Musharraf’s right hand man, Tariq Aziz, the former secretary of the National Security Council, who has kept a determined silence ever since Musharraf resigned, recently made a rare TV statement and said his former boss will not return to Pakistan. He did not say ‘soon or never’ but his statement meant not for many years at least, unless something changes radically.

Most PML-Q leaders, who have been meeting Musharraf abroad, have been pointing out to the politically ambitious man the serious threats to his life on his return as he faced three assassination attempts when he was being so heavily protected. “Allah will protect me,” has been his standard reply to them.

Musharraf loyalist Mohammad Ali Durrani told this correspondent that nobody discussed with him the formation of the new party. Asked whether Musharraf would and should return now, he said in view of the prevailing situation Pakistan needs reconciliation, not confrontation, because of the challenges it was facing. “It would be Musharraf’s own judgment to come back to Pakistan or stay abroad.”

He referred to a recent statement of former close aide of Musharraf, Tariq Aziz, who said that the former president was not returning to Pakistan in the near future. Former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, who is the chairman of the Steering Committee of the like-minded group of the PML-Q, said to a question that once Musharraf would formally decide to come, his party would consider what to do.

But he said Pakistan was better off during Musharraf’s era than it was now as there was a tremendous growth rate, law and order was better and the Kashmir dispute was near resolution. Now, even the independent media, hostile to Musharraf, is grudgingly acknowledging all this, he said.

To a question, Kasuri said he has regrets that his government had badly mishandled the Lal Masjid issue, which evoked a lot of negative reaction from voters in the general elections, and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s reference that would have been withdrawn even after its filing.

As usual Dr Sher Afgan was the only Leaguer and a great Musharraf fan, who was enthusiastic about the former president’s chances of return and the new political party. But he failed to say when Musharraf would come back.

The former minister said Musharraf would head the new party as its chairman and Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif has just been made its acting chairman, which means that he was there just as a stop gap arrangement.

The PML-N wants trial and severe punishment of Musharraf on grave charges of breaching the constitution and other crimes. Nawaz Sharif may at times spare President Asif Ali Zardari in his public remarks, but always come hard on Musharraf.

Although the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has not prosecuted Musharraf despite forceful demand, it has outright contempt towards him and is in no mood to carry his baggage of liabilities especially the public scorn and hatred against him. So is the position of almost every other political party worth the name.

At the moment, apart from Barrister Saif Musharraf’s fervent supporters include Lala Nisar, Dr Sher Afgan, and to some extent Amir Muqam, who is formally aligned with the PML-Q. The likeminded group of this party continues to shy away from associating itself with Musharraf for fear of public wrath. The PML-Q got a harsh battering in the 2008 elections due to this factor.

The public fury against Musharraf was recently reflected in the rout of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed in the by-election for NA-55 Rawalpindi. The Lal Masjid episode played a major role in his defeat. Once the greatest mouthpiece of Musharraf, Sheikh Rashid is now not even prepared to mention his name in his politics so that people do not remember the dictatorial rule and his association with it.

Even Musharraf’s confidants say there is no point in taking the risk of facing detention on return by the former president when the overall ground situation in Pakistan is hostile and unfavourable for him and there have been demands for his arrest and trial.

So far, there are three FIRs (first information reports) lodged against Musharraf, the most serious among them being the one registered in Quetta on the orders of the Balochistan High Court on the charge of murdering Nawab Akbar Bugti.


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