At the beginning of the year, Gen. Musharraf announced that he would return to Pakistan between 27-30 January. He would arrive in Karachi and would stand in general elections. When the date arrived, however, Musharraf was nowhere to be found. His aide told reporters that he was postponing his return, but insisted that “Gen Musharraf will return to Pakistan, that’s for sure”. Three months later, it looks like Gen. Musharraf’s return is not so ‘sure’ after all. The British government has refused to honour an extradition request for Musharraf to answer charges of his involvement in the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. But it’s not only the British government that seems to have Gen. Musharraf’s interests at heart.
The Harry Walker Agency represents prestigious world leaders including former American President Bill Clinton, Nobel Peace Laureate and former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan. They also represent Gen. Musharraf.
Next to a smirking photograph on the Harry Walker Agency’s website, Gen. Musharraf’s biography is an eyewash of his record as dictator. The biography notes that Pakistan came close to full-scale war with India in the late 1990s, but doesn’t mention that this nuclear scare came as the result of Gen. Musharraf’s too clever by half attempt to lead troops dressed as militants across the line of control in Kashmir – a strategic blunder salvaged only when then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif traveled first to Beijing, then to Washington asking for help in defusing the potentially catastrophic standoff between two nuclear powers.
The Harry Walker Agency’s biography of Gen. Musharraf further describes the former dictator as “a fighter against terrorism and extremism”, despite the conclusion of former CIA officer Bruce Riedel that Gen. Musharraf was a “double-dealing” ally who allowed al Qaeda to regroup in the tribal areas while fleecing the US of billions of dollars.
Most disturbingly, though, is that the Harry Walker Agency describes Gen. Musharraf as a “democratic reformer,” ignoring the fact that he seized power in 1999 through a military coup, placed Supreme Court justices under house arrest when they attempted to enforce anti-corruption laws, and suspended the Constitution in 2007 less than a year before he was deposed. Gen. Musharraf’s regime set democracy back by decades.
As dictator, Gen. Musharraf consolidated power in himself and crippled civilian institutions. The present government of Pakistan has spent the past four years passing legislation including the 18th Amendment to undo the damage done to Pakistan’s democracy through power consolidation under Musharraf’s dictatorship. Some of the damage from Gen. Musharraf’s regime, however, can never be undone.
Mark Siegel, a close personal friend and former advisor to Benazir Bhutto, was with Benazir Bhutto when she received a chilling phone call from Gen. Musharraf threatening her with dire consequences if she dared return to Pakistan to participate in the 2008 elections. As usual, Benazir Bhutto did dare.
Though Pakistan People’s Party won the elections, Benazir Bhutto was not able to celebrate. On December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated as she waved to crowds of supporters.
An independent investigation by the United Nations followed, and in 2010, the UN released a report that stopped just short of declaring Gen. Musharraf responsible for Bhutto’s assassination. Last year, an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan issued an arrest warrant for the former dictator on charges that he deliberately withheld security despite knowing of specific plans to attack Bhutto. Through his spokesman, Musharraf declared that he has “no intention of complying” with the court. The old habits of a dictator die hard.
Earlier this year, a federal Joint Investigative Team (JIT) report found that Musharraf “had prior knowledge of the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto by accused Baitullah Mehsud and withheld this vital information of a conspiracy.” The government has asked Interpol to issue a red warrant for the former dictator so that he can be brought to Pakistan to comply with the courts.
Though Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto is the highest profile Pakistani lost under Gen. Musharraf’s regime, she is certainly not the only one. During Gen. Musharraf’s dictatorship, hundreds of Pakistanis went missing and are believed to have been disappeared by state agencies under his direction. In 2009, Gen. Musharraf told Al Jazeera that perhaps the missing Pakistanis had voluntarily disappeared, a suggestion the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called “absolutely untenable,” noting that Gen. Musharraf referred to a Supreme Court investigation into the missing persons as a “constant interference in executive functions” when he suspended the Constitution for the second time in 2007.
Today, Gen. Musharraf is following the path set by his fellow dictators Augusto Pinochet and Idi Amin, living a life of luxury in so-called ‘self-imposed exile’. Based out of a multi-million dollar flat in London outfitted with silk carpets and leather furniture, the former dictator dines at five-star hotels and relaxes by playing golf and games of bridge with arms dealers.
To pay the bills, Gen. Musharraf travels the world – often to Europe and the US – giving high dollar speeches. Industry experts estimate that today the former Pakistani dictator is commanding upwards of $200,000 per appearance. In January, The News reported that the former dictator had amassed over $1 billion in Middle Eastern bank accounts.
While Gen. Musharraf hides behind British protection enjoying a life of fame, wealth and luxury made possible by the Harry Walker Agency, justice for Benazir Bhutto and the hundreds of other Pakistanis disappeared under the his regime remains missing. The UN report investigating Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s death concluded that, “it is essential that the perpetrators of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto be brought to justice.” The way some are facilitating Gen. Musharraf’s life of luxury doesn’t only deny justice, it makes a mockery of it.