The never ending tug-of-war


M Ziauddin

THE rag tag rallies being taken out by the opposition PPP in protest against the government decision to allow former military dictator General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf undergoing trial for treason under Article 6 of the constitution appeared in the first flush to be a desperate attempt by a party already turning into a political non-entity to win back its lost glory.
But a closer look at the development that seemed to have been a consequence of the never ending civil-military antagonism for each other makes one wonder if the PPP had not taken to the street actually in support of the ruling PML-N and against the high handedness of you-know-who.
The departure abroad of Musharraf facing a number of serious criminal cases apart from the treason case including that of being allegedly involved in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, ostensibly for medical treatment and his subsequent political activities as soon as he landed in the UAE had created the impression that the civilian government had been forced by the Army leadership out to save its former chief from the indignity of life imprisonment to let go and the PMLN leadership had to concede because the alternative had looked too bleak for the country’s on-going democratic process.
Clearly, the PPP had stood to gain nothing for itself from these protest rallies except ridicule. In fact the counter attacks that the interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as well as a part of the national media had mounted against the Party had made the PPP protest look more like a demonstration of a party that had lost its way. But by focusing on the event the PPP seem to have done exactly what the PMLN leadership had wanted it to do under its obligation of Charter of Democracy (CoD).
The CoD had been signed between the late PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto and the PMLN Chief Nawaz Sharif when both were in exile. The charter was in fact a pledged by the two not support the non-democratic forces ever when the latter mounted any campaign to derail the democratic process. The two also pledged under the CoD to fully support each other’s government if and when it came under pressure from the non-democratic forces.
It was because of this pledge that the PMLN refused to side with forces that had included even the judiciary and a large part of the civil society plus an influential section of media when the then PPP government led by Asif Ali Zardari, a man with huge baggage came under tremendous pressure from the non-democratic forces to abdicate.
And it was in the same spirit that the PPP came to the support of the elected government when the Imran Khan led sit-ins had almost done the job for those who had wanted to cut to size a government which had come with a huge mandate of the electorate.
Here it would not be out of place to put the record straight with regard to the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). It was under pressure from the growing political opposition to the rule of the uniformed head of the state following the signing of the CoD that Musharraf plotted to neutralize the Charter’s adverse political impact on his dictatorial rule by dividing the two signatories of the CoD by extending one what appeared to be hand of reconciliation.
The two most important figures that conceived and implemented the NRO were Musharaf himself and the then ISI chief General (retd) Kiayni. One thought by getting Benazir on his side not only he would be able to bury politics of Nawaz for good but would also ensure the sustainability of his own rule in uniform. The other thought by obliging BB in the NRO negotiations, he would win her support for his candidature for his institution’ top position when and if it fell vacant once he had successfully brought to an end his predecessor’s hold on the office. Musharraf failed but Kiayni succeeded as BB saw to it that in the aftermath of the NRO the dictator would lose his uniform and Kiayni would succeed him.
Benazir Bhutto had in fact wanted to concede to Musharaf presidency in return for an amendment in the constitution facilitating her becoming the prime minister for the third time. But being clever by half Musharraf thought as a PM Benazir would be too difficult to handle. So he made a counter offer to withdraw all cases instituted by the previous governments against politicians between 1990 and 1999. He thought this would take care of the CoD for good.
Now it seems Musharaf has become history. But seemingly using him the non-democratic forces are plotting to undermine the on-going democratic process. Apparently these forces are using the powers they had obtained following the launching of Zarb-i-Azb not only to eliminate terrorism from the country but also to marginalize the mainstream political parties by levelling charges of facilitating, supporting and helping non-state terror organisations against the leadership of the political parties through media trial. In this effort the non-democratic forces are said to be wooing the superior judiciary and the foreign funded civil society organizations as well as a compromised media.
The purpose of the non-democratic forces does not appear to be complete take- over of the government but to obtain enough nuisance value to be able to pull the strings from behind without let or hindrance.
Those who are calling Musharraf a coward do not know the man. And those who believe he is trying to mobilize, from the sanctuary of UAE, his ‘foreign friends’ and ‘well-wishers within the institution’ to negotiate a deal for him for a triumphant political return, know him even less. He is simply power mad.
I vividly recall his answer to my question during the very first press conference he addressed in Islamabad after the takeover: What is your exit strategy, General Sahab? I asked. I am not one to run away (Mein bhagney wala nahi hoon), was his quick retort.
And true enough, he kept digging in even after the expiry of the three-year-to-rule mandate the Supreme Court had allowed him. When I asked him during an interview (for Dawn) why he wanted to continue in office for another five years, he said he wanted to complete the unfinished agenda that he had set for himself. And what would happen when you find that your agenda is still unfinished even after five years, would you like to continue, I pressed on. “Yes,” he said, without a pause.
In the din of the ongoing debate on whether or not to try Musharraf under Article 6, most of us seem to have ignored the events that had led to his honorable exit from office in August 2008. And if informed reports circulating at that time were to be believed, Musharraf was given an assurance that no cases would be instituted against him if he resigned and left the country instead of contesting the impeachment proceedings that were being proposed. Presumably, his institution and also the US were guarantors of this deal.

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