The trial of Pervez Musharraf is as much about Pakistan's future as it is about its past

In light of all his many troubles, the mystery of why Musharraf chose to come back to Pakistan and face the music only deepens


A few years ago he was being described by then US President George Bush as a man who "truly is somebody who believes in democracy." But today Pakistan’s former dictator Pervez Musharraf is getting ready to face charges for treason over the emergency rule he imposed in 2007 which saw the suspension of the country’s constitution, sacking of senior judges, arrest of thousands of people and private news channels being forcibly taken off air. What is significant is this is the first time in the country’s history a former head of the military is being put on trial for treason.

The big mystery of course is what in the world possessed Musharraf to return to Pakistan earlier this year where he has now been placed under house-arrest? One of the jokes is his fans on Facebook, some of whom like to call his “sir” and “hero”, had been egging the man to come back. More likely it is that life in exile in London and Dubai didn’t turn out to be glamorous enough for the former General and he was missing being in the limelight of Pakistani politics. Well if that was his wish, it seems to have come true.  His trial for treason certainly has become the talk of the town.

But it is not just charges over imposing emergency rule in the country, the man has a queue of angry people lining up to seek justice for his actions while he was in office. A major grievance against the former dictator is for signing-up Pakistan to the so-called War against Terror. During his time in office thousands of people – “suspected” terrorists and political opponents – went missing. It has been alleged that under Musharraf's watch some of these “suspects” were handed over to the Americans. The whereabouts of many others remains missing today, and are believed to having been tortured and held in secret jail.

That is not all. Remarkably he recently admitted in an interview with CNN to having given permission to the US to carry out drone strikes in the country on “very few” occasions. The strikes may have been few initially, but they appear to have set the scene for more aggressive and wide-ranging drone operations by the CIA.

He has also been arrested in connection with the assassination of two prominent political figures. One was Nawab Akbar Khan Bhugti, a prominent Baloch nationalist who was killed in a military operation in 2006 which led to such an outpouring of anger in the country. An even more prominent killing was that of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto over which Musharraf is now being considered a suspect. 

In fairness there have been all kinds of wild theories about who may have been behind the killing. But the former dictator did not help his own case by presiding over a government which has been accused of serous security lapses. A former American speech-writer and friend of Bhutto, Mark Siegel, has written about how he witnessed her receiving a threatening phone call from the former dictator during a meeting: “She was visibly shaken when she hung up the phone: Musharraf had threatened her with dire consequences if she returned to Pakistan to lead her Pakistan Peoples Party in the upcoming elections, where she was the major threat to defeat him. Bhutto quoted him as saying that she would be responsible for what happened to her.”

Some of Musharraf’s backers compare his term in office to the failings of the current President Asif Ali Zardari , who was popularly called "Mr. Ten Per Cent" over accusations of widespread kickbacks and corruption. Zardari’s miserable record in office is often used as proof that his predecessor’s era was much better. Yet Zardari arguably came to power in part due to the unwitting help of Musharraf. In 2007 Musharraf issued a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which was brokered by the US government, and granted amnesty to many of the country’s leading corrupt politicians.

In light of all these grievances against him, the mystery of why Musharraf chose to come back to Pakistan and face the music only deepens. He planned to run in the elections but was barred – tragic because if he had been allowed maybe the reality of his lack of mass appeal beyond Facebook would have sunk in sooner.

Now the major concern is that the charge of treason levelled against him could be expanded to include other names, high profile figures within the military and politicians, who were said to have been consulted when the former dictator imposed emergency rule in 2007. Others argue a trial should also be held for the whole military coup of 1999 which could turn into a real witch-hunt.

At present the country is already facing some grave challenges, and it is far from clear that the newly elected government of Nawaz Sharif can solve these with a trial of Musharraf. There is a serious energy crisis in Pakistan with big cities suffering from power-cuts in blistering heat. A priority for the state should be to complete a major pipeline which will carry gas from Iran to Pakistan. The project has faced stiff opposition and even threatened sanctions from Washington. There are also terrorist attacks, CIA drone strikes, economic malaise and the country’s poor educational infrastructure. A trial of Musharraf should not be allowed to become a media circus which diverts attention from these serious issues.

And yet, a trial of the former dictator could bring is to act as deterrent against future military coups. A large part of Pakistan’s near 66-year history has been wasted languishing under so-called “patriotic” dictators who had overthrown elected governments. Attaching the word 'traitor' to the name of this former General could help create a different future.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The woman featured in the Better Together campaign's latest video  

Tea and no sympathy: The 'Better Together' campaign's mistake is to assume it knows how women think

Jane Merrick
On alert: Security cordons around Cardiff Castle ahead of this week’s Nato summit  

Ukraine crisis: Nato is at a crossroads. Where does it go from here?

Richard Shirreff
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution