FeaturedNationalVolume 13 Issue # 16

Musharraf as a bargaining chip?


The government has set its sight to bring back former President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf to face a treason case in the country after its failure to get relief for the Sharif family in corruption cases. It appears the ruling party wants to use the former president as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the establishment.


According to sources, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has contacted the establishment twice for relief for his elder brother and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family from corruption cases after becoming the president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). However, the establishment informed him that it had no role in the cases and it could not influence the court at any point. The ruling party also created rumours, which were also carried by a section of the press, that Shahbaz Sharif had called on Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa twice in 72 hours. However, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the army, rejected it. ISPR Director General (DG) Major-General Asif Ghafoor said in a tweet, “News about meeting of Army Chief with Punjab CM twice during last 72 hours being reported by a media house is baseless and highly irresponsible. No such meeting has taken place.” Later, Shahbaz Sharif also denied it.


The rumour of the meeting was created by the ruling party with a purpose. It was a message to its legislators, who are ready to leave the party after the conviction of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in corruption cases, that Shahbaz Sharif is close to the establishment and will rescue his elder brother and the party. It was also an attempt to woo voters. However, it failed to produce desired results as PML-N MNAs and MPAs, who are annoyed at the party leadership, have not changed their mind. Some of them have already joined the PTI and other parties and the rest of them would ditch it soon. They say they could not remain part of the ruling party even if it struck a deal with the establishment and Nawaz Sharif was exonerated from all cases.


Few weeks ago, the ruling party displayed threatening banners for the establishment, the army and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan in its Sangla Hill public meeting. They were also advertised in leading newspapers. They were from workers, who warned “actors and directors” of dire consequences if they continued their activities against the Sharif family. “Workers will lay down their lives for Nawaz Sharif and they can also take lives of others for him,” the banners and advertisement said. Obviously, the “actors” were the judiciary, Imran Khan and the media and the “directors” were the establishment.


A recent “private” visit of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to the US was also suspicious. It is said he assured the US officials of a crackdown against all organizations on their hit list, if they negotiated relief with the Pakistani establishment for the Sharif family. It is said the Sharifs have also been considering the option of using former President Pervez Musharraf as a bargaining chip in talks with the establishment for many months. The idea gained momentum after the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. They want to see his return at any cost. They believe it will divert the focus of the courts and the public from their corruption cases and if Musharraf is convicted for treason, which is punishable by death, the country will plunge into chaos and they could escape unhurt from the courts.


Under a planning, the government has focused its attention to bring back Musharraf. It has started pursuing his case with renewed efforts. The government had put the case in cold storage for years but revived it after seeing a chance to settle the score with the establishment. A special court hearing the treason case has also ordered the government to take special measures to bring him back from the United Arab Emirates. A three-member special court, headed by Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Yahya Afridi and Lahore High Court Chief Justice Yawar Ali and Balochistan High Court Justice Tahira Safdar as its members, ordered the Interior Ministry to take action for his arrest through Interpol. The court also ordered the attachment of his property. The bench, formed in 2013, is hearing the case of imposition of an emergency by Musharraf in November 2007. The court also ordered suspension of his passport and the national identity card.


Seeing the noose tightening around his neck, Pervez Musharraf is likely to return in the beginning of the next month after he gets an assurance of the provision of foolproof security from the government. It is said he has been consulting his close aides about making Karachi a hub of all his political activities on returning to Pakistan. He had left the country after the government did not object to a Supreme Court order to permit him to leave abroad for treatment. The government wanted to use the judiciary for political point-scoring against him, which forced the establishment to rescue him but it left the three in an awkward situation.


He faced charges including treason and the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The government launched a treason case against him to distract the public attention from real issues of the country in 2014, which boomranged and threatened its own survival. The government and the judiciary put the ball in each other’s court several times. At last, the military had to intervene to save its former boss. If he returns, the situation will not be different. The tenure of the PML-N government will end in two months and the caretaker government would not be interested in the case. The next government will not be in a position to pursue it and another pipedream of the Sharifs to save themselves and the party would be dashed.