Musharraf Flees a Court — and Puts Pakistan’s Generals in a Quandary

Ensconced in a villa protected by barbed wire, the former dictator tries to avoid further legal problems even as he gives the all-powerful military a huge political headache

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Associated Press

Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharraf presents his party's manifesto leaflets at his residence in Islamabad on April 15, 2013

It was an escape worthy of a Hollywood thriller. Moments after the Islamabad High Court canceled former Pakistani military ruler General Pervez Musharraf’s bail, making him liable for arrest, the barrel-chested ex-commando hastened out of the court room. Musharraf’s heavy security detail whisked him away into a bulletproof black SUV and sped off into the distance. Pakistan’s once absolute ruler became a fugitive.

To stave off the prospect of nights behind narrowly spaced bars, Musharraf has taken refuge in his fortified 5-acre farmhouse on the edge of Islamabad. If he does get arrested on the high court’s orders, he may be spared the indignity of a lonely dark cell and be allowed to spend his time between court hearings under house arrest. As yet, the police have held back on arresting him and have instead put up a security cordon. Riot police wearing helmets and thick padding, holding shields and twirling long sticks blocked the main road leading Musharraf’s home.

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Normally, the police wouldn’t hesitate to arrest a civilian politician, as they often did during Musharraf’s rule. But their reluctance reveals just how sensitive the matter is. If Musharraf is arrested, he will become the first former army chief to have his wrists clasped in cold metal — a precedent few generals will be comfortable with. If he is put on trial, there is a risk that current members of the military leadership could get dragged into the legal quandary. “The army leadership will be involved in it,” says retired Lieut. General Talat Masood, an analyst. “They cannot get away from it. They were involved in the decisions he took.”

Musharraf is facing charges of sacking and arresting scores of judges when he imposed a state of emergency in November 2007. The court’s move on Thursday was no doubt inflected by a strong element of revenge. As Musharraf fled the courtroom, angry lawyers chased after his vehicle. “Look, look who has run! Musharraf has run, Musharraf has run!” they chanted, in slogans reminiscent of the final year of Musharraf’s rule, when a popular lawyer-led movement to restore the judges and end military rule harried him.

Fearing that the army’s image would be tainted by his return, the current crop of top generals warned him not to hazard his journey back to Pakistan from foreign exile. “The army’s leadership warned him of all this,” says Masood. “They tried to dissuade him from coming to Pakistan.” The former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency even traveled to London to urge him to reconsider his plans at one stage. But Musharraf was determined to stage a political comeback, telling Pakistanis that he had returned to “save” the country when he arrived in Karachi a month ago. Since his arrival, though, the army has provided him with a large security escort in light of the threats he faces.

Musharraf’s fate will be a test for the army. For the past five years, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has keenly cultivated an image of a professional soldier who wants democracy to continue. If the army now decides to interfere with the process and rescue Musharraf from his legal miseries, mere weeks before Pakistan’s next elections, they could face a backlash. Last year, Kayani signaled his displeasure when the Supreme Court was poised to take action against another former army chief and a former head of the ISI for rigging the 1990 elections. “It is difficult for the army to defend Musharraf at this time,” says Masood, the retired general. “It would be much worse than not defending him. The moment you start defending, you are admitting your guilt and saying that you are part of what Musharraf has done.”

(MORE: The Return of the General: Why Is Musharraf Running for Office in Pakistan?)

The arrest orders merely represent the latest, and by no means the last, of Musharraf’s travails. Earlier this week, judges from the lower courts ruled that he could not stand in the forthcoming elections. His decision to impose a state of emergency was given as the reason, even though he has not been convicted of that charge. At the same time, Musharraf faces other cases, including for his alleged involvement in the assassinations of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former governor of Baluchistan Akbar Bugti. Musharraf denies the charges. Musharraf could appeal to the Supreme Court for his bail to be renewed, but judges there have been busy this past week hearing petitions to try the fallen dictator for treason for having subverted the constitution.

Musharraf’s opponents are deriving some quiet satisfaction from his troubles. The media he muzzled delighted in replaying clips of the hasty court exit alongside of a montage of old photos of Musharraf from his more stressful days, holding back his jet-black hair as he stared into the distance. Some former politicians thundered against him on television. Others had quieter reactions. “It isn’t nice for anyone to have to go through this,” says a former parliamentarian from former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party who was arrested and beaten after the Musharraf coup. “But I still remember how Musharraf forced me to see my mother and children in handcuffs. It would fill their eyes with tears,” the politician said, asking not to be named.

It is unclear why Musharraf returned, given the controversies he has triggered. Last week, he confessed to CNN that he entered a secret deal with the U.S. to allow the CIA to operate drones in Pakistan. For years he had denied it and inexplicably chose the moment of his return to Pakistan to finally come clean. Some ascribe the decision to vanity. Years of a progressively quieter exile denied him the headlines he craves, critics say. That is no longer a problem.

(MORE: Pakistan’s Election Season Begins With Two Very Different Candidates)

Musharraf will also finally have time to enjoy the villa he built but had to abandon when he went into exile. He will also be safer there than on the campaign trail. TIME visited the residence when it was completed in 2008. It is tastefully designed with Mediterranean touches. There is a fishpond, a walking track and endless coils of barbed wire. There is a view of the surrounding greenery from every room in the house. And there is a shaded terrace, where he can sit, pull on his fat Cuban cigars, sip his favorite whisky, and reflect on the capricious turns of history.

12 comments
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DrsamSam

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NoorAlam
NoorAlam

Karachi

Two policemen, including an assistant sub-inspector, were injured during an attack on a school that will serve as a polling station on Saturday (today).

ASI Mohammed Ali and PC Fareed Hussain were shot and injured by three men on motorcycles at the Saqib Children School in the Kunwari Colony of the Peerabad area while they were on security duty.

The injured were rushed to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital (ASH), where both are said to be in a critical condition. The victims suffered bullet wounds to the upper and lower torso.

The attackers used a 9mm pistol in the offence and the spent bullet casings were sent for forensic tests. Investigators added that the incident was a targeted attack.

A senior police officer, while choosing to remain anonymous, said that District West is a highly sensitive area. The officer said that there are about 350 polling stations that fall into his area, out of which 63 are highly sensitive. The localities of Peerabad, Orangi Town and its adjoining areas fall into this district.

District West is facing a severe threat ahead of polls and although security precautions had been taken on Friday evening, criminal elements decided to carry out a targeted attack to spread panic among voters in the area. However, the officer was confident that the police would be on top of the situation come Election Day.

Constable killed

In a separate case, the tortured bullet-riddled body of Police Constable Ali Abbas was found near Sir Syed College in Nazimabad No-1 on Friday morning.

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Amir Farooqi of District Central said that the police went to the scene as soon as they were informed and found a middle-aged man wearing a Shalwar Kameez lying dead.

The body was taken to the ASH for a postmortem and a message was aired on Police Control. The victim was ultimately identified as PC Ali Abbas, who was posted to Security Zone-II and was performing his duties under the supervision of SP Ijaz Hashmi.

He was a resident of the Gulbahar area.

The constable had left home on Thursday night when unidentified criminals kidnapped him before torturing and killing the policeman. Investigators said it was too early to confirm the motive, but the case will be investigated from all angles.

 

AsifMaalik
AsifMaalik

At-least Musharraf has proved himself a brave man who can face challenges. Maligning and humiliating him is condemnable.

vkmo
vkmo

Where can he go? He can't go to Afghanistan - civilian flights are rare out of Afghanistan. He can't go to India - they'd jail him too. Maybe he can join Al Qaeda to take over Pak. And then If Al Qaeda wins, then he will be free as a bird. Remember - he was the Prez when 911 happened!! 

luqman.soorma
luqman.soorma

Terrible article. The author, perhaps on purpose, is attempting to obscure facts or clearly lie. It was Musharraf who provided the media the greatest freedom in the past two decades, which have seen utter failures of democratic governments. 

Musharraf did not profess of any "deals" with CIA. He admitted to clearing a few strikes against high value non-Pakistani Al-Qaeda targets. That is not a deal, but a tactical attack against known terrorists. 

Musharraf was by far a better leader than any other in my life span. The state of the country, in any measurable terms was leaps beyond what the democratic governments have given to Pakistan. Even in exile, he has received tremendous media attention, has had numerous speaking engagements, and has staunchly promoted Pakistan in all instances.

Lastly, maligning someone's character with unsubstantiated tidbits about a Muslim having whisky represents truly a sad state of Time's journalistic integrity.

hsknyc
hsknyc

wow, extremely well put JoshAdams.

BUT, the people of Pak does NOT want a democracy.  They do NOT want a LAW which is fair to all, inlcuding minorities.  They do NOT care for liberals and non Islamists.,  So...for a person to implement democracy in a place where its people are unwilling to be civilized, it would be BUSH-like to try and force democracy on a population that clearly is not ready or unwilling to be democractic.

I also find it interesting that Bush was the main backer of Musharraf and how both forcefully wanted to impement decmocracy to a population that di NOT want decmocracy. 

Than again, as far as Pakistan is concerned, I could't tell you what its people are thinking, considering the harsh conditions of lives, how has there not been a revolt by the people yet?  it is sooooo sad that the ONLY cause that seems to united the Paks are its ill will towards USA, which is implemented by the Mullahs and Sheiks -  ignorance makes great sheeps.

JoshuaAdams
JoshuaAdams

What happened with former President and General, Pervez Musharraf is not surprising. When he was in power, he obviously had no respect for the legal systems established by the constitution of Pakistan. This is why he overthrew the government and remained in power for so long. Was he a bad leader? Yes, if the qualification is respecting and honoring the rule of law. He came back to Pakistan with the hopes of becoming an elected representative of the people, a position he could have won. See, the rule of law, the legal systems Musharraf shunned, he shunned for a reason. They are corrupt and do not exist to serve the people of Pakistan. The legal system convicts a doctor for life in prison for helping Osama bin Laden be found and killed. The legal system allows Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and his militant wing, Lashkar-e-Taiba, to be on temporary house arrest after his group killed over 160 people in India. The legal system which allows foreign diplomats and human rights activists to be tried for blasphemy or insulting "Islam." A legal system which allows over 1,000 honor killings of young women every year. A legal system which screens potential politicians on whether or not they pray 5 times a day or has said anything which is anti-Shariah. A legal system which allows hundreds of militant groups to run around bombing and shooting each other but doesn't attack the conservative politicians. A legal system which allows the assassination of minority leaders without any arrests. Yes, I can see why Musharraf would not respect the legal system he so desperately tried to overthrow and avoid. If a democracy is a direct reflection of the values of a people, keep running, Musharraf. Lord knows thousands of Pakistani immigrants are hoping to do the same thing than try to fix the mess that is Pakistan's government and society.

lalaland1784
lalaland1784

@hsknyc @hsknyc err yes we do want democracy, and we do want a law that is fair to all, including minorities. and we're united in alot of causes, anti americanism being one of them. nothing to do with the mullahs and sheikhs- you try loving a country that is singlehandedly responsible for the state that we're in. please widen your horizons and step out of your lovely house in an american suburb before jumping to conclusions.

denmarks47
denmarks47

@JoshuaAdams 100% Accurate.  Pakistan is the place where the final hell will start because not only are extremist, they have nuclear toys.  This is the place where the world had better, collectively, play cop and take away the nukes.  North Korea and Iran are minor nuisance.  Pakistan is another matter and rational nations better act..................

HappySingh
HappySingh

and when final hell starts India will be first to go...............

JoshuaAdams
JoshuaAdams

@lalaland1784 @denmarks47 @JoshuaAdams I wasn't commenting about the nuclear situation. I believe that once the world saw the effect using nuclear weapons had upon a population after the USA bombed Japan in WWII, no government will resort to a nuclear war. Individuals and other militant groups, maybe, but no government.