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Top dog to underdog


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Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf speaks at a news conference. — Photo by AP/File
Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf speaks at a news conference. — Photo by AP/File

I NEVER thought the day would come when I would actually feel sorry for Musharraf. But I just can’t bring myself to side with the violent, thuggish lawyers baying for his blood.

From top dog to underdog is a long fall, but Musharraf accomplished it with a short flight from Dubai to Karachi. The moment he landed, reality (as opposed to the virtual reality of Facebook and Twitter) asserted itself in the shape of a miserably small group of supporters. Some returning hajis have bigger reception parties.

It’s been downhill ever since for the ex-dictator. From stinging editorials to nasty comments on TV chat shows, he has faced a barrage of criticism. But it has been in the courts where he has met his Waterloo. As expected, the judiciary is having a field day putting their nemesis through the wringer.

Far from addressing adoring crowds, Musharraf is reduced to confessions to CNN that have done little to add to his much-reduced image. The admission that he did indeed authorise the Americans to launch drone attacks has not gone down well, especially on the eve of elections in which he hoped to rise from the ashes.

But why did he expect a different welcome? When he boasts that he has more ‘likes’ on Facebook than Imran Khan, he forgets that much of his support comes from Pakistani expatriates. This community of fans saw him through rose-tinted glasses, and basked in the reflected glory of a leader in the Ayub mould who was respected abroad.

But to be fair to the man, there were few alternatives to his pro-US shift in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. In the early days of the American invasion of Afghanistan, his policy seemed to pay dividends in the shape of massive loans written off and increased aid flows. For a country hit with a range of sanctions following our nuclear tests and Musharraf’s coup, this renewed Western engagement was a lifeline for a pariah state.

For several years, the economy did very well, and the middle class expanded at an impressive rate. And to Musharraf’s credit, he did increase the number of reserved seats for women in our assemblies, apart from ending the discriminatory system of separate electorates for minorities introduced by Zia.

As the judiciary and a section of the media indulge in a paroxysm of Musharraf-bashing, it’s easy to forget his achievements. But the fact is, whether we like it or not, he was president of Pakistan and deserves a modicum of respect. And while he’s certainly not above the law, he should not be subjected to the kind of uncivilised behaviour our lawyers have displayed.

Although I have little time for the dark, muttered warnings from retired generals, I am all for a degree of decorum even though this does not seem to be a priority for either our judges, or our lawyers. Musharraf’s monumental misjudgement in his handling of the judiciary ended his rule. By all means, try him for this and any other crimes he is accused of, but let’s not make a circus of the process.

Above all, the charges he faces ought not to have derailed his electoral bid. Disqualifying him means depriving the electorate of the opportunity of disabusing him of the notion that he is a hugely popular leader. If he had won from any of the seats he wanted to contest, he would have faced the daily indignity of rubbing shoulders with other parliamentarians, many of whom have good reason to dislike him. Letting him run would have strengthened democratic traditions.

Even if his Chak Shahzad fortress had not been declared a sub-jail, where would Musharraf go? With his life under constant threat, he would have discovered that even close friends would have been reluctant to tempt fate and the Taliban by inviting him over.

The recent discovery of an explosives-laden car outside his house underscores the magnitude of the risk to his life. I wonder how the car made it past the checkpost on the only approach to Chak Shahzad? Was it by any chance subjected to scrutiny by the hand-held explosive-detection devices we see while entering the premises of airports and other high-security areas?

If so, it’s easy to see why the car was probably waved through: these devices simply do not work, and their seller, Jim McCormick, has just been arrested in the UK for the scam that made him a cool £50 million. These phoney detectors were sold for as much as £10,000 each, and only cost £15 to put together.

But I digress. The truth is that Musharraf, a soldier who has often boasted of his grasp of strategy, has put himself in an untenable position. Among the first things they teach you at command school is to never join battle without a clear escape route. Musharraf has none.

The only way he can extricate himself is through international intervention. While the army might like to help, it now lacks the political clout to pull their ex-chief’s chestnuts out of this particular fire. The Americans, too, would not like to put their hands into this hornet’s nest. Only the Saudis have the muscle with the Pakistani establishment to allow Musharraf back into the exile he never should have left.

No matter how this saga ends, Musharraf’s return was a huge blunder. But being the kind of person he is, I doubt he’ll learn from it. Soon after the 1999 coup, a Time magazine reporter interviewed his mother for a cover story on the latest Pakistani general to seize power. In the report, the delightfully blunt lady was quoted as saying: “I have three sons; one joined the civil service, and the next one became a doctor. Musharraf was not as bright as his brothers, so we sent him into the army.”

Comments (33) Closed

Punishment Apr 28, 2013 08:12am
I dont Feel Sorry For Musharraf or any of these soo called leaders and politcial movements of the Nation... they deserve all the wrath and misery they put their people through .... as for being in a house arrest is like having A winter retreat for the guy
rkm Apr 27, 2013 06:55am
Qamar Apr 27, 2013 03:57am
Musharraf's worst crime was the NRO that resulted in last five years of misery under the rule of crooks and criminals.
SA Arsha Apr 27, 2013 08:43am
Very good analysis for a "news junkie" as per your last article. Clearly NRO was his biggest mistake. The judiciary must be careful as the whole thing smacks of vandetta. His future will be the task of the next elected government. Hopefully the Saudis will step in & save any future embarrasment.
Mohammad Farooq Apr 27, 2013 04:37am
This historical blunder happened as he thought he was above the law and was not scared of any body.
a.k.lal Apr 27, 2013 04:54am
it is unfortunate that "not so bright" persons from army background have ruled PAK for long and no need to comment n outcome
Kamal Gupta Apr 27, 2013 04:42am
Like you say, his ideal punishment would have been to let him contest the election and become one of the many members of Pakstan's parliament.
Cynic Apr 27, 2013 05:14am
For once IH makes sense, maybe at the urging of his western masters.
Tahir M Apr 27, 2013 08:52am
He was a good leader and if now left to the devices of pure democracy, he would be even more effective. Long live the legacy of Musharraf.
Ganesh (India) Apr 27, 2013 09:26am
Irfan Sahib.. wonderfull article...
kashif Apr 27, 2013 09:41am
Being an Advocate I like to say that any of us can face these types of situation. I can lodge FIR of any case against any of the person. I would like to say that every person should give a chance to defenend himself in the courts. I think that Courts are now too much biased and sorry to say, our some lawyers attitude is not up to mark.
Krish Chennai Apr 27, 2013 10:00am
Well, the photos of the gentleman say it all. Those days he was in army fatigues, and pictured punching the air with his fists. Now in civilian clothes, and always with hand on his forehead. Retired army generals usually have a comfy life. Mr Musharraf had one till he got back to home country.
Sapna Apr 27, 2013 10:57am
Terrific article.... as always from Irfan saab! Kudos...
Kamal Apr 27, 2013 11:24am
MUSH never alienated the Americans. He's still their favorite boy.
Kamal Apr 27, 2013 11:26am
He would have never been elected. His crimes disallow him to even run. He was an absconder when he landed.
Hassan Apr 28, 2013 01:18pm
I am not a fan of Musharraf by any means but he is our ex President and the treatment he is being subjugated to by lawyers and others, it is almost sickening. Looks like Army may step in to keep things under control. How can courts allow this drama?
Sardar Uner Apr 27, 2013 12:26pm
MNA is representative of the People. His perks and salary is derived by tax payer . Infact it is a job. Every job has requirements . Why he should be allowed to many different cases are pending against him. He property was seized, he forebade to appear in court. He thinks he is all power full General. He forgets now he is one of the retired generals. Dime a dorzen available for even hire.. He does not own Pakistan. He commited crime must do the time. No exception
N.G.Thaiam Apr 27, 2013 12:30pm
Be Patient my man. You will see the wheels of justice moving. It moves slowly but once you are in the vise . rarely you can escape. Swiss cases will not end. New CJ will take over , immunity will end, new dawn fall. Be Patient!
Lahore_Mass_Transit Apr 27, 2013 12:37pm
Our only problem with Musharaff is his taking over of our country illegally. Army as an institution in a state and its Generals are going to learn to live by the Constitution of the country and obey the law. Next should be the scrutiny of Generals involved in corruption and bringing Army under complete civilian control including the ISI. This is what it is all about. Irfan Sahib conveniently -and surprisingly- ignored this mother of all issues. This has set our country back. That is why Musharaff should get an exempalary punishment not like the one he is getting now, in a Farmhouse ,declared sub-jail. Remeber, Bhutto never got that luxury.
S.S.VERMA Apr 27, 2013 01:00pm
bhu_kh Apr 27, 2013 01:09pm
What so ever people write, but the fact and truth on the wall ,is that, best successful team for Pakistan is Prime Minister Imran khan and president Pravez Musharraf .This team will meet the aspiration of public and good for intenational peace and progress.
Duke Apr 27, 2013 03:40pm
Hear me children! If you ever want to succeed in Pakistan, never hire a lawyer. Hire a judge! The supreme the rank, the better results :)
khaled Apr 27, 2013 05:16pm
Its newton law, every action has an equal an opposite reaction., therefore always tread on land light footed , you will not need a escape route.
jawed eqbal Apr 27, 2013 07:19pm
unguarded ambition often ends in falling from grace, he was no exception to the rule. Her mom was right in rating him as 'not so bright'. if he were more sober, he should not have returned to a pack of injured egos. reality bites' isn,t it?
aquarian Apr 27, 2013 07:37pm
donot agree
Shahid Latif Apr 27, 2013 08:00pm
Usurpers of power have no legitimacy to claim political leadership. On one hand you can suspend the basic rights of whole nation in a second because you were sacked and then you have the audacity to walk back to Pakistan to fight for your rights. Time to face the reality. Your trial would pitch the institution against each other. I wish you leave and do not become a source of crises for Pakistan.
Nadir Aziz Apr 27, 2013 08:49pm
I do not think that Musharraf's return to Pakistan is a mistake. The circus the lawyers have created for him will gain a lot of sympathy for him from ordinary folks who may not have voted for him in this election if he was allowed to stand. Also, if he survives the death threats from the Taliban elements he will be a hero to large segments of the populace and if he plays his cards well he may very well be a viable choice for the future. I will be very surprised if he came to Pakistan just for the May elections.
zeerak Apr 27, 2013 09:29pm
you give the Americans too much credit my friend. Americans turned their back on him only after he became an non-viable option in the wake of his dismissal of the CJ and subsequent lawyers movement that snowballed into a popular revolt against him. It was not just the Americans that turned their back, his brothers in the uniform did as well. Such is life.
G.A. Apr 27, 2013 09:59pm
He has boasted many times that he is a soldier and is trained to fight and not retreat. That may work on a battlefield but that's not where he is fighting his battles right now is he? That was his undoing.
sja Apr 28, 2013 01:11am
You say:"But I digress. The truth is that Musharraf, a soldier who has often boasted of his grasp of strategy, has put himself in an untenable position. Among the first things they teach you at command school is to never join battle without a clear escape route. Musharraf has none."""""------------- you say he has none, I completely disagree, have you not seen Sahibzada Qasuri, a stalwart legal champion, who has to his credit taking one Ex Civil Martial Law Administer, turned President, turned Prime Minister, turned breaker of East and West Pakistan, that was one achievment for him like you say TOP DOG, now he preaches on the tv crying that his man cannot do this or do that, and he cites the Maafi AAm of our Prophet on the day of Fateh Mekka, all was forgiven, and he cited big names, and then he wants the nation to pardon his client in the same spirit. Mr. Irfan, this is the fuel that Musharraf has now in these trying times, Sahibzada Qasuri, arrogantly refused any mercy consideration on appeals, and retrial despite the world body request to the ruler of his time to spare the life his accused but lo behold all the rules for general amnesty were not read as rights to this tall attorney and he saw that his accused got to the gallows despite what was the reality. I am surprised you totally ignored on this aspect or side or issue about the top dog and the underdog or the slumpdog personality -----------------------let us hear what you have to say about seemingly -- some Nuclear fuel as you say this Ex president has in his bag in the shape of Sahibzada Qasuri -- the crying attorney in the media asking for forgiveness and repeat of the prophet amnesty, when this ummah has some other issues behind the scenes all over the globe. Please do pen something about this would love to read.
hashmi Apr 28, 2013 01:22am
Leave Musharraf alone do some thing to improve economy . Get rid of terrorism , address sectarian killings. Solve energy crises etc .Enough is enough all talk no work .
Ahmed Apr 28, 2013 08:30am
Well, we take no time in making someone God-like person. Being a nation we have very weak memory. We forget that Mr Musharraf removed an elected government, he came up with a 7 point agenda and lost it somewhere, he allowed US to use our soil, he disturbed our political system by backing Chaudhrey brothers in establishing a new party fraction, he brought NRO that gave what we all know very well. It
Fahad Apr 28, 2013 08:33am
Agreed, and he is the one who remove judges put emergency. As a nation, indeed, we have weak memories.