THERE are two flights Pervez Musharraf will never forget. The first was flight PK 805 that brought him from Colombo to Karachi on Oct 12, 1999.
It was prevented from landing at Karachi airport on the orders of the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf had left as chief of army staff; he landed as Pakistan’s fourth military ruler.
The second eventful flight in his life brought him back 14 years later, on March 24, 2013, to the same airport. This time he landed as a civilian commoner and political contender.
In a way, Musharraf’s situation parallels that of the 19th-century Afghan king Shah Shuja, who returned in 1839 from exile in what was British India to claim his throne in Kabul. Then, Shah Shuja had to rely upon the powerful support of the British Army of the Indus to restore him to that insecure eminence. Musharraf has returned this time, not on the broad shoulders of a cabal of corps commanders but instead upon the undependable advice of mothballed loyalists.
Whoever advised Musharraf to return to Pakistan has done him a cruel disservice. Whoever whispered into his ear that he should return to face the music had obviously not read the score. There is no aria written in the libretto of Pakistani political opera for a failed tenor.
Exile has been regarded always by those who lacked a domestic vote bank as a one-way ticket to oblivion. The first of our famous exiles ex-president Iskander Mirza, for example, spent the final years of his life abroad fulminating against his nemesis Ayub Khan, unable to reclaim power. Even when he died, he was denied a grave in his homeland.
When it was Ayub Khan’s turn, he found himself exiled within his own country, staring from his garden across Islamabad, the capital he had founded, a deposed Shah Jahan condemned to gaze at the Taj Mahal he had had built.
Ziaul Haq died as he had governed —– brutally, without remorse. His motto takht ya takhta (the throne or the bier) was not dissimilar to that of Aurangzeb, whom he resembled in more ways than one, for, like the brittle Aurangzeb, he was known to give no quarter to his enemies and expected none from his erstwhile friends.
It is an interesting reflection of the benignity that has crept into Pakistan’s recent polity that our political leaders are permitted (nay, encouraged) by their tormentors to go abroad and there mark time in gilded exile. Preferred penitentiaries are London, Jeddah and Dubai.
What is the blandishment, though, what is the irresistible inducement that arouses the homing instinct in such exiles? What is it that finally convinces these exiles to risk everything — a comfortable life, peace of mind, even life itself — to return to a country where they know that their patriotism will never be a strong enough shield?
In the case of the late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif, their objectives were quite clear. They returned to reclaim their political constituencies.
In the case of Pervez Musharraf, though, the purpose of his para-gliding unarmed and alone into hostile terrain is unclear. Did he believe that he would be the long-awaited saviour that 180 million discontented citizens have been praying for? If so, he has misread their lips.
Did he believe that he would not be held accountable for anything he had done during the eight years that he ruled the country as its chief executive/president? If so, he ought to have gleaned the back issues of local newspapers since 2008.
If he believed that he could parachute from an aircraft directly into parliament, he has not understood the subtle change that has occurred in the mind of the Pakistan electorate since he was here last.
One cynical view put forward suggests that Pervez Musharraf’s return from exile has less to do with saving the country than with salvaging his own tangible assets and defrosting bank accounts frozen by the courts.
Musharraf is a person who has escaped more assassination attempts than he would care to count. His sense of insecurity is understandable. Before returning to Pakistan, he demanded extraordinary protection, claiming that his life was in danger. On arrival, he received it from his former subordinates.
Whatever may be one’s assessment of Musharraf’s political acumen, even his adversaries would concede that his return to Pakistan is an act of singular personal courage. He has demonstrated that he can endure the humiliation of appearing in local courts, that he can accept rejection of his nomination papers for not one but three constituencies at the hands of returning officers, and that he is prepared to undergo (as he may still have to) the trauma of being made to appear in the court of the very man whom he tried to evict as the chief justice.
Should Musharraf survive all these attempts to assassinate him politically and, by happenstance, win a seat representing Chitral in the next National Assembly, he could find himself in the invidious position of being a powerless back-bencher, the helpless victim of daily taunts and jibes of his fellow parliamentarians whenever he enters the Assembly.
“Lose no hope when faced with hardships,” the Afghan Shah Shuja had written, when faced with similar adversity. ‘Black clouds soon give way to rain.” The monsoons in Mr Musharraf’s political calendar though may be a long, very hot summer away.
The writer is an author.