ISLAMABAD: Former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf was not only issued a new passport two months before the expiry of his travel document but it was again a diplomatic passport that he was entitled to being a former head of state, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal confirmed to Dawn on Monday.

The former military ruler has been declared absconder by courts in several cases including high treason case, judges’ detention case and Benazir Bhutto assassination case. However, it is not clear if specific permission was given for a diplomatic passport and who gave it.

The interior minister claimed that the diplomatic passport of Gen Musharraf was renewed out of fear that he might use it as a pretext for not returning home to face the treason case. “He needs passport to travel back to Pakistan. He would have contended that without a passport he cannot travel and would have blamed the government for blocking his return,” Mr Iqbal said in response to a query about the renewal of the former military ruler’s passport.

His passport was to expire on March 16, 2018, but he sought an early renewal as international travel, in many cases, is not possible with a passport having less than six-month validity. Initially, the government was reluctant to renew his passport and withheld the application for nearly two months but it was finally renewed from Dubai on Jan 5 for the next five years.

FO unaware about early renewal of the travel document of the general who has been declared absconder in several cases

A source in Gen Musharraf’s party — the All Pakistan Muslim League — said that Foreign Office (FO) was holding up the application but when the former president’s aide-de-camp Maj Shehryar “contacted someone”, the process went ahead. The source said the authorisation for issuance of diplomatic passports is given by FO as per Passport and Visa Manual 2006.

An FO source revealed that no record of the correspondence pertaining to Gen Musharraf’s passport renewal could be traced in FO’s consular section but it was said the matter was referred to the interior ministry which had then allowed the renewal.

Gen Musharraf’s case was referred to FO by the Pakistani consulate in Dubai seeking approval in view of the high-profile cases against him. Technically, it was not required because former presidents enjoy lifetime entitlement to a diplomatic passport. Under Paragraph 45-E of the Passport and Visa Manual 2006, diplomatic passports might be renewed or altered, if necessary, by Pakistani passport-issuing authorities abroad, by intimating the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

FO spokesman unaware

FO Spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal said he was unaware about the issue. “I don’t know. I’ll check,” he replied to a query.

The special court hearing the treason case against the former president had last week directed the government to suspend his passport and computerised national identity card (CNIC) if he failed to return to Pakistan to face the charges against him. Directives were also issued for getting him repatriated with the help of Interpol.

The interior minister claimed he had given instructions to “all three agencies” to seize his passport and CNIC and move for the issuance of red warrants if Gen Musharraf failed to return by March 16.

Musharraf’s return

As the former military dictator expressed willingness to come back home to avoid possible suspension of his CNIC and diplomatic passport, the interior ministry sought detail of his possible return.

The special court seized with the high treason case on March 8 directed the interior ministry to suspend his CNIC and passport besides asking the federal government to extradite the former military ruler with the help of Interpol.

The interior ministry, however, gave another chance to Gen Musharraf offering him to surrender within a week. The APML, however, claimed that he could return in six to eight weeks.

Since the special court, headed by Peshawar High Court (PHC) Chief Justice Yahya Afridi, is set to resume proceedings on March 21, the interior ministry on March 17 issued a letter to the counsel for Gen Musharraf, Akhtar Shah, asking him that “the travel itinerary of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, as well as [details of] his stay in Pakistan may be sent to this ministry at the earliest so that necessary foolproof security arrangements can be made for him will in time.”

Advocate Shah had earlier filed an application before the special court seeking army’s security for the ex-army chief. Commenting on the application, Advocate Mohammad Akram Sheikh, who heads the prosecution side, apprised the PHC that the government had assured him of foolproof security while turning down the request for provision of security by the defence ministry.

The counsel for Musharraf, however, insisted on army’s security for the ex-military ruler in response to the interior ministry’s letter.

Advocate Shah told Dawn that he had responded to the interior ministry and asked them to explain in detail the mechanism and standard of the security for Gen Musharraf. He said the former army chief could not rely upon the security arrangement by the interior ministry as everyone had witnessed that the civil forces working under the ministry had miserably failed to disperse a handful of protesters from Faizabad Interchange in November 2017.

The interior ministry had filed a complaint in December 2013 against Gen Musharraf under Article 6 of the Constitution for imposing a state of emergency on Nov 3, 2007, and suspending the Constitution. A special court in March 2014 indicted Gen Musharraf for high treason.

The prosecution, in this case, laid the entire evidence by September 2014. The former military ruler, however, lingered on the proceedings by filing petitions in the Islamabad High Court and the Supreme Court. Finally, he left the country in March 2016 as the interior ministry removed his name from the Exit Control List (ECL) after the federal government lost its appeal against an order of Sindh High Court.

Malik Asad also contributed to this report.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2018