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Former President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. —File Photo

KARACHI: The Pakistani government should hold the country’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf accountable for human rights abuses when he returns to Pakistan, Human Rights Watch said Saturday.

Musharraf is due to return to Pakistan on Sunday from Dubai, after nearly four years of self-imposed exile, in time to take part in parliamentary elections on May 11.

Legal proceedings are pending against General (retd) Pervez Musharraf in several human rights cases.

In November 2011, Musharraf was charged with involvement in the killing of Akbar Bugti, a Baloch nationalist leader who died under unclear circumstances while hiding in a cave in August 2006, after a long standoff with the Pakistani military.

In February 2011, Musharraf was declared an absconder after a court in Rawalpindi accepted the interim charge-sheet from Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which named the former president as one of the accused in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Musharraf has also been charged with the illegal removal from office and confinement of much of the country’s judiciary, including the serving chief justice of the Supreme Court, from November 2007 to March 2008.

“Musharraf should not be allowed to elude the serious legal proceedings against him on his return to Pakistan,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued from New York.

“Only by ensuring that Musharraf faces the well-documented outstanding charges against him can Pakistan put an end to the military’s impunity for abuses.”

Musharraf has the distinction of having suspended constitutional rule twice during his time in office, Human Rights Watch said.

After declaring a state of emergency in November 2007, he began a violent crackdown and ordered the detention of some 10,000 political opponents –including most of the country’s Supreme Court judges.

“Given the personal suffering many judges endured at Musharraf’s hands, it will be a real test for Pakistan’s judiciary, especially the chief justice, to ensure that prosecutions are impartial,” Hasan said.

“But this is a test they must face and pass if Pakistan is to send a clear message that it will not allow abusive military leaders to escape accountability.”

Under Musharraf’s watch, the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies allegedly committed widespread human rights violations, including the enforced disappearances of thousands of political opponents, particularly from Balochistan province.

“Throughout his years in office, Musharraf maintained that he was fully aware of the behaviour of security forces in Balochistan and that they had done no wrong,” Hasan said. “His role in the widespread abuses in Balochistan, including ‘disappearances’ during his rule, needs to be investigated and appropriately prosecuted.”

Musharraf persistently undermined the right to free expression and forcibly censored the media during his years in power, Human Rights Watch said. During the emergency, he shut down over 30 television channels and passed decrees muzzling the media.

Pakistan’s elected parliament has rolled back most of Musharraf’s unlawful decrees and reversed virtually all his self-empowering constitutional measures. However, there has been little progress in holding Musharraf accountable and others in his government responsible for egregious human rights abuses including killings, torture, and enforced disappearances, Human Rights Watch said.

“It is fortunate for General Musharraf that Pakistan is a democracy today that will neither force him back into exile nor prevent him from participating in the political process as Musharraf did to his opponents,” Hasan said.

“But it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that Musharraf is fully investigated and fairly prosecuted for abuses such as torture and disappearances that were widespread under his rule,” he added.