Former president Pervez Musharraf has chosen a vaguely familiar path to return to Pakistan from his nearly four-year exile, relying on the intervention of the Saudi royal family and its clout over one of his arch-enemies.
Talking to The Express Tribune, a close aide to Musharraf – who is due to arrive at Karachi airport around 12:45pm today – revealed that following closed-door meetings with the Saudi royals, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has agreed to refrain from creating any trouble for the former dictator upon his return. He added that in light of the threats issued against Musharraf by the Taliban, the country’s security agencies would provide security to the former president.
According to the aide, both PML-N head Nawaz Sharif and army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani paid visits to the kingdom recently to discuss issues pertaining to Musharraf’s return and the upcoming elections in Pakistan. Musharraf himself met the Saudi rulers as well on separate occasions, he added.
PML-N’s top leadership has remained tight-lipped on the alleged deal over Musharraf’s return. Both Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Khawaja Saad Rafique refused to comment on the issue when contacted.
PML-N spokesperson Ahsan Iqbal, however, denied any deal with Musharraf and maintained his party’s stance remained unchanged. He claimed the former dictator had tried to use diplomatic pressure to meet Nawaz Sharif, but his request was turned down by the latter.
“For his crimes against the nation and the Constitution, Musharraf must face charges in the court of law,” he said, adding that his party would have no objection if the former president was cleared by the courts.
In his October 12, 1999 coup, Musharraf overthrew PML-N’s government and forced the party’s chief and then prime minister Nawaz Sharif into exile for nearly eight years.
Despite this, the party still appears to have softened its stance with regards to the former dictator ever since its chief returned from his visit to Saudi Arabia. Talking to the media upon his return from Jeddah last week, Nawaz Sharif said that Musharraf, being a citizen of Pakistan, has a right to live in the country, and that it is against Quranic teachings to deprive a person of his homeland.
PML-N’s new stance stands in sharp contrast with its previous hardline stance regarding Musharraf. The party had previously given the then ruling Pakistan Peoples Party a tough time for failing to prosecute Musharraf under Article 6 of the Constitution over his unconstitutional steps – his coup in October 1999 and his decision to send judges packing during his second martial law in 2007.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Raza Kasuri, the senior vice president of Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), confirmed a deal with the PML-N. “If no such deal had been made, then why was Nawaz Sharif citing divine verses in favour of Musharraf’s return,” he asserted, when contacted by The Express Tribune.
Talking about security arrangements for Musharraf’s return, Kasuri said, “We have a team of retired Special Services Group commandos, which includes two former Inter Services Intelligence lieutenant colonels, providing security for our party chief.”
Responding to another question, he said that as per the ‘blue book’, security agencies were bound to provide security to a former head of state. According to Inspector General Bani Amin, however, the usual security protocol consists of five police personnel.
A former federal minister, however, told The Express Tribune that under the deal struck with Saudi intervention in 2008 with the army chief as a guarantor, the government was bound to ensure Musharraf’s security when he chose to return.
The PML-N joined the government under the same deal, and was, in return, supposed to give the former president indemnity.
Under the deal, the chief ministers of the subsequent government were also supposed to take oath under Musharraf, the minister continued. He added, however, that the PML-N chose not to honour this commitment fearing public backlash at the time. This, he maintained, led to the former president’s decision of choosing self exile.
Taliban threaten to kill Musharraf
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have threatened to kill Musharraf once he returned to Pakistan.
In a video message released on Saturday, TTP operative Adnan Rasheed – a former Pakistan Air Force technician who was involved in the attempt to assassinate the former president during his tenure – said the group has prepared a special force, comprising snipers, suicide bombers and a special assault team, for the sole purpose of killing Musharraf.
Rasheed had previously been imprisoned in Bannu jail after being sentenced for masterminding the attacks on Musharraf. He was freed by the Taliban in last April’s brazen assault on the prison.
In a news conference in Dubai, meanwhile, Musharraf downplayed the threats saying he was not afraid of TTP’s ‘hollow’ statements. “I’m not the kind to be scared by such threats made only with words.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2013.