Three years ago, Anti-Terrorism Court formally charged Gen Musharraf with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation for murder for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. One year later, the ex-dictator listened as another judge read out a new set of charges including high treason for subverting the Constitution when he illegally seized power in 2007. Today, he sits smiling as he sips his favourite Scotch whiskey in Dubai. His dreams of returning to power were dashed by reality, but neither did his nightmare of facing justice come to pass. Instead, Gen Musharraf joins a long history of military dictators who ran way rather than facing justice. Pakistan’s Gen Musharraf name will be included in history books next to Chile’s Gen Pinochet and Uganda’s Gen Idi Amin.
The meaning of this is so clear that it is hardly worth even noting. Dawn has called it, ‘Musharraf’s latest coup‘, and says ‘Increasingly, it appears that the prime minister has accepted the de facto normalisation of military control’. Once again we are reminded that justice in this country is arbitrary, and the best legal defense is still the brass on one’s shoulders, not the truth on one’s side.
However, Gen Musharraf’s retreat is a stark reminder that it is not only mercy that is reserved for the military elite. The excuse given for letting go a suspect charged with murder and treason is that he requires medical treatment. By allowing this, the Court has officially admitted that we are a country soon to have world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, but we can’t even provide proper medical care for our citizens. If Gen Musharraf, who somehow became a billionaire, can not get proper medical treatment in this country, what is the hope of the common man who does not have the connections or the billions to spend?
Gen Musharraf may have run away from Pakistan, but the rest of us are here to stay. This episode feels familiar because it is, but we can let it drag us down into cynicism or we can take it as a wake up call to take our country back from the powers that are holding it back.
With this acquittal, Gen Musharraf joins a long list of Pakistan’s “untouchables” – individuals who no court can convict and no amount of evidences can satisfactorily condemn. Others include Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Amir Jamaat-ud-Dawa Hafiz Saeed, Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar, and former head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Malik Ishaq.
This inability to convict certain people has been a disaster. Diplomatically, it has cast doubt among foreign nations about whether we are honest in our efforts to fight terrorism, feeding those who accuse the state of playing double games and using militancy as a strategic asset. At home, it has deteriorated law and order by causing doubt about the willingness or the ability of security agencies to go after certain groups. This only encourages others to commit the same acts.
In the case of Akbar Bugti murder, it is a doubly dangerous outcome because it sends the message to Baloch that the estimated 21,000 missing and 6,000 killed and mutilated are worth less than one General. Anger erupted in Balochistan after Bugti was killed. Do we expect our Baloch brothers to celebrate when his killer walks scot free?
The historical irony that a military dictator ushered in an era of journalistic freedom has not gone unnoticed. Gen Musharraf unleashed the media dogs, and the media dogs bit him squarely. For the next few years, the media served a purpose, though, keeping check on our new democracy by showing no restraint against any civilian politician. But as the curtain begins to close on Pakistani democracy, the era of media freedom too appears to be drawing to a close.
Farrukh Saleem’s billion dollar gamble came up short last week, but rather than admit fault, he has simply doubled down. Only this time, he’s beginning to show his hand. After predicting that ‘the price of independent horses is bound to go through the roof’ following Senate elections that saw little evidence of horse trading, the columnist shifts from complaining about politicians being corrupt to complaining about them being ineffective – especially compared to that other power centre, GHQ.
Musharraf’s confirmation of Army support for Taliban is particularly important in the context of facts revealed by Wikileaks documents a few years ago. One leaked document discusses the involvement of another former General, Hamid Gul, in supporting Taliban. According to one document, “It was not known whether Hamid Gul was acting with the knowledge or consent of ISI, or whether any portions of ISI were aware of his activities.” While the knowledge or consent of secret agencies will always be difficult to prove beyond any doubt, it would be fairly naive to believe that Hamid Gul’s pro-Jihad activities were done without at least tacit approval of the Army leadership. Hamid Gul has described himself as “an ideologue of jihad“. It is increasingly apparent that he is not the only General who subscribes to this ideology.