Last week word on the street in Islamabad had it that Musharraf’s departure was imminent. Newspapers reported that as a plane awaited boarding at Chaklala Airbase, frantic packing was underway at the Army House in Rawalpindi, intended to be the residence of the Chief of Army Staff, but occupied still and most illegally by Musharraf. Excited Pakistanis began speculating about the destination of the mysterious aircraft. It has been widely believed in Pakistan for some time now that Musharraf has already bought and furnished a “second home”, although there are significant differences of opinion on the location of that home. Some believe he will retire to a villa on the Bosphorous in Turkey, others speculate about an island off the coast of Malaysia, and still others state with near certainty that his next abode will be Boston, safely tucked away in the arms of his staunch ally, the United States of America.
That Musharraf will have to resign from the office of President is nearly certain. But when and how are still widely open to debate. Those who know him well snicker and tell us that “he will drag his feet” even though he is perhaps the most unpopular man in Pakistan today. Last week, when the rumour mill went into overdrive, it was also commented that Musharraf tried to replace General Kiyani as Chief of Army Staff. Under Pakistan’s Constitution, it is the President who appoints the army chief. But Kiyani nipped Musharraf’s plans in the bud, if he did indeed have any plans of this sort, by replacing the Commander of the Triple One Brigade, taking the post away from a Musharraf loyalist and appointing his own man to this very sensitive office. The Triple One Brigade is officially responsible for security of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, but has historically been brought into play to execute coups against elected governments. Thus, the general impression in Pakistan was that if Musharraf was thinking along the lines of yet another “martial law”, Kiyani quickly acted to foil his plans.
General Kiyani has had the reputation of a professional soldier and was appointed as the chief by Musharraf himself late last year when Musharraf finally shed the army uniform, in response to tremendous pressure domestically and internationally. General Kiyani has since earned esteem in the eyes of Pakistanis for attempting to keep the army away from politics and resuscitating its deeply damaged image in the eyes of average Pakistanis. He let the February elections take their course and did not engage the army or intelligence agencies to help either side, as has been the norm in several previous elections. For this, the people are grateful to him, and he, in turn, appears deeply mindful of public opinion, contrary to the increasingly bitter Mr. Musharraf.
Once lauded as the man who encouraged press freedoms, took a stand against corrupt politicians and made Pakistan business-friendly by streamlining bureaucratic red tape, Musharraf has sadly and conclusively destroyed his legacy. Today he is simply mocked as an intolerant power hungry despot who will make illicit deals with those he previously rebuked as corrupt, who will not think twice to silence and attack either an independent media or an independent judiciary, and worst of all, who will allow mass murder and abduction of Pakistani citizens if it is mandated by the Bush administration.
“He is America’s man in Pakistan,” said General (Retired) Jamshed (former Corps Commander of Rawalpindi and a staunch army man who had served under Musharraf) in a widely-publicized television interview, “but he is their only man in Pakistan.”
It appears that such damning remarks about Mr. Musharraf are no longer reserved for Nawaz Sharif, a coalition partner in the ruling government but a political opponent who despises Musharraf for having overthrown his government in 1999; or Iftikhar Chaudhry, the deposed Chief Justice removed by Musharraf last year but revered by fellow judges and lawyers who have vowed to continue their secular struggle for the supremacy of the Constitution and the independence of the judiciary; or Amina Janjua, a demure hijab-clad housewife and unlikely candidate for a vociferous protestor but whose husband was disappeared two years ago and she is now the foremost campaigner of missing persons in Pakistan.
Musharraf’s graph has become so inverted that a significant number of armed forces personnel have also turned against him. Two hundred and fifty thousand ex-servicemen have extended whole-hearted support to the lawyers’ movement which is poised to commence a Long March to the Army House on June 10, protesting the illegal ouster of Iftikhar Chaudhry and sixty other judges last November 3rd. Their second demand is even more ambitious. They want to see Musharraf impeached. General (Retired) Jamshed, in his very bold television interview, insisted that Musharraf must be tried for Kargil (Musharraf’s adventure as Chief of Army Staff on the Indo-Pak border in 1999 when Nawaz Sharif claimed that he was never informed as Prime Minister), for Waziristan, and for all other heinous incidents which led to loss of Paksitani life.
If an independent judiciary is restored and impeachment proceedings begun, it will be more than a first for Pakistan. Cynics discount the possibility immediately. Almost everyone agrees that Musharraf has little time left but the new elite, who have gained during Musharraf’s time, whether it was in the stock market bubble or favourable privatization deals, insist that a safe exit is far more realistic. Besides, they point out that America, and by extension, Mr. Zardari (Bhutto’s widower and de facto leader of the ruling party), who has benefited greatly from American pressure on Musharraf to withdraw corruption cases against him, would not be comfortable any other way.
Which side will triumph remains to be seen. Will Article 6 of Pakistan’s Constitution, under which any person guilty of abrogating or subverting the Constitution is guilty of high treason, be invoked, warding off any future military takeover and warning simultaneously other vested interests, including ruling politicians, that there could be real accountability? Or, will Article 6 continue to lie dormant, and perhaps this time next year Musharraf will be found sunbathing along the shores of a treasure island?
AYESHA IJAZ KHAN is a London-based lawyer and political commentator and can be contacted via her website www.ayeshaijazkhan.com