Washington is not concealing its concern over the outcome of the presidential race in Pakistan. The election is slated for May 11. According to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, «With the United States heavily invested in the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, the next Pakistani government will be vital to upholding U.S. interests in the region». It’s not only the situation in Afghanistan that is at stake, but also the control over the nuclear potential…
Washington is mainly concerned by the fact that the radical Islamist parties like Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam, Jamaat-e-Islami, spurred by the Arab Spring, are on the rise, as well as the Tehreek-e-Insaf, which did not take part in the previous elections. The last one is headed by Imran Khan, the former popular cricket star (cricket is number one sports in the country). He thinks, for instance, that «U.S. assistance to Pakistan a curse that has, in his views, transformed the Islamic Republic into an American colony». (1) In the same spirit, Tehreek-e-Insaf condemns U.S. drone strikes and argues that Taliban ideology is not a threat to Pakistan.
The Tehreek-e-Insaf’s pre-election rating is 16%, compared to 15.5% of the ruling People’s Party.
One of the strongest demands put forward by Islamists is putting an end to US drone attacks on Pakistani soil. The Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League are more accepting of Pakistan’s ties with the West. But they have to surface the wave of anti-drones sentiments too.
The SEALs operation to liquidate Bin Laden is seen as a heroic deed in the United States, but it is perceived as an act of military intervention in Pakistan, while the formal version of its outcome is taken with a grain of salt. That’s when Musharraf could play his role. He has admitted his government allowed the drone strikes in the north-western Pakistan, but "only on very few occasions». The US unmanned aerial vehicle strikes started in 2004.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there are minimum 3,400 people who appear to have so far died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s work suggests 890 of them were likely to have been civilians. (2)
Musharraf was the President of Pakistan in 1999-2008. He was born in Delhi in 1943. The family moved to Pakistan in 1947, after the British India was partitioned. In 1961, at age of 18, Musharraf entered the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy at Kabul. In 1990–91, he studied at the Royal College of Defense Studies (RCDS) in Britain. He was known to hold pro-Western views. That’s exactly what boosted his career, not special abilities or merits. Former US President George Bush launched the war against terror after the September 11, 2001. It resulted in more suffering in the neighboring Afghanistan and strikes on Pakistani soil. The Musharraf’s decision to join the US brought down his popular standing inside the country. He managed to cling to power only thanks to using force. In 2008 he left Pakistan threatened by impeachment. While abroad, he never concealed his intent to get to power again. London and Washington were sober enough calculating his chances, but there was not much choice left, so the decision was taken to use the fugitive General for their purposes. The calculation was that in the conditions of growing chaos and total corruption under the People’s Party rule, a part of population was longing for a strong hand and may render support to the disgraced military leader. (3)
On March 24 Musharraf came to Karachi taking a flight from Dubai, not London, to keep attention away from his connection to the United Kingdom. At first it all went down smoothly and according to plans. A feeble crowd of supporters met him in airport waving Pakistani flags and chanting, «Long Live Pervez Musharraf!» The nomination was accepted by the constituency in Chitral area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in the north. The experts started to predict that the Musharraf-led All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) political party had a chance to become an influential political force in parliament. In this case Pervez Musharraf would become a key political figure on the Pakistani political landscape instead of being a London exile.
Under the conditions the General’s political opponents decided it was the time for leaving hesitations behind and taking action. They made remember that Musharraf was indicted in 2011 accused of killing late Prime Minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, the wife of incumbent President Asif Ali Zardari, and the present leader of People’s Party. The General was officially charged with violation of the Constitution and killing political opponents.
He was also accused of illegal dismissal and arrest of Supreme Court judges in 2007 and killing Akbar Bugti, a Baloch leader in 2006. The Pakistan’s Supreme Court has summoned him to face judges as it is to consider petitions seeking to prosecute the ex-General for treason. The state of emergency declared by Musharraf in 2007 has already been declared unconstitutional.
Those days the Supreme Court refused to recognize him as the President because he was simultaneously occupying the position of Army Chief-of-Staff. The country’s law says the head of executive power cannot be a top Army leader at the same time. Finally, Musharraf refused his claim to the top military position after a conflict with Supreme Court judges, some of them put under arrest.
The former President is expected to face trial soon. The Rawalpindi anti-terror tribunal will take on the case of illegal grabbing power in 1999. (4)
The Islamabad Court barred him from the presidential race. His nomination is invalid now. According to his lawyers, Musharraf is going to appeal the ruling.
The whole situation is becoming kind of a tragicomical farce. The brave General fled from the custody – the guards simply did not dare to use force. No matter the Court’s ruling, police failed to detain him, though the arrest warrant was issued. They were going to handcuff the General when his bodyguards whisked him away from the courtroom and pushed the General into a black SUV to speed away and vanish.
Isolated from the world, Musharraf finally agreed to be kept under house arrest. There the General is intent to continue struggle. It’s not political activities this time, but rather personal freedom he will be fighting for. As Pakistani media says, it is not so much the court decisions, but rather the people who hand down the verdict, «The general has already been judged by history. Had he been allowed to contest the elections and been delivered a sound defeat, there would have been little that the law could have added to this. Indeed, the people’s verdict would have sealed his fate far more effectively than any legal order that still runs the risk of making a martyr out of him». (5)
It’s not the worst outcome for the General. Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan threatens to kill him. It says it would use snipers and suicide bombers «to send the old enemy to hell». (6)
The old comrades-in-arms among military top leadership have turned their backs on him. The sentiment among people makes think that Pakistan may repeat the Egyptian scenario, when the military failed to stand up to grass roots protests.
Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's top general, has distanced himself from politics and elections. He has no intent to lend a helping hand to Musharraf. According to some estimates, Imran Khan, the leader of Tehreek-e-Insaf, an Islamist party, enjoys major support in military circles. (7)
The operation Musharraf has failed. The fate of the General is a lesson to be learned. The people have taken the news about the General’s detention calmly and there are no protests, so the West is not rushing to demand the Pakistani authorities stop the persecution. Otherwise, it can spoil even further the relations with the race participants. That’s what happens to the politicians, who give priority to foreign interests in the detriment of the national ones. Nobody needs the material once used.
The United States disappointing failure has greatly complicated the pre-election situation in Pakistan. The coming to power of forces, hostile to the US, will impede the «final withdrawal» from Afghanistan in 2014. It could make it a stampede instead, converting the regional geopolitical picture into a mess…