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The changing fortunes of Musharraf

The former military ruler may need to settle in for a long legal battle with the Pakistani courts.
Last modified: 20 Aug 2013 21:21

It was a cold December in 2007 and my cameraman and I were in Mir Ali, North Waziristan, taking advantage of the lull in fighting in this volatile stretch of territory in Pakistan’s tribal areas close to the Afghan border.

Because everyone was getting ready for fresh elections and a possible end to military rule, the mood was tense but calm. The area had seen some of the worst fighting; the road to Miran Shah was dubbed "Suicide Alley". Driving on a bumpy road marked by huge craters was a clear telltale sign of a bloody conflict. The military had lost many men here against bombs planted on the roadside.

But now, for a change, it seemed the people wanted to give the ballot preference over the bullet. The number of attacks also showed how easily the Taliban could get their hands on explosives, and with increasing sophistication.

Thinking we had exclusive access to the area, in a region seldom safe for travel, we headed back to Islamabad with considerable excitement, totally oblivious to the fact that there was an even bigger story waiting for us in Islamabad. One that shocked not just the nation, but the whole world.

We were just 50km from the city when we heard that Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack just as she left the rally at Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi on the eve of December 27, 2007. The scene of the crime was washed clean, all evidence that possibly remained scattered at the scene forever lost. That prompted serious accusations of a cover-up from the word go.

The government planted the blame on the Pakistani Taliban, and named Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, for being responsible for the attack.

After Benazir’s death, pressure mounted on Musharraf to relinquish his hold on power and hand over the presidency to the widower of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari. He left the country to move to his new apartment in London. Even though his friends would have advised him to stay put and play golf in the UK, Musharraf was eager to return to Pakistan and announced his retun to Pakistan last year. However, he was told that it would be unwise for him to do so.

In March this year, a defiant Musharraf came back to Pakistan, taking advantage of the fact that an interim government was in power. The general soon found himself dealing with a number of serious cases against him, ranging from the murder of the Baluch leader Nawab Bugti - killed in his mountain hideout in 2006 - to the conspiracy to murder Benazir Bhutto. He has now been formally indicted on at least three counts by an anti-terrorism court, along with another six co-accused. The case has been adjourned till August 27, and Musharraf has denied the charges against him. It is the first time that a former military ruler is indicted for acts committed during his rule.

But that is not all. The former ruler also has other more serious charge to contend with: treason, under article 6 of the Pakistani constitution, which carries the death penalty. He says he is not afraid to face the courts, and remains determined to fight a long legal battle. Despite attempts by powerful Arab friends to take him out of the country, he has refused to budge, and his lawyer Ahmad Raza Kasuri, speaking to Al Jazeera, said he was confident and upbeat and exercising regularly.

Because of the high risk of attack from the Pakistani Taliban, the former general was under house arrest at his plush farmhouse less than 20 minutes drive from Islamabad, now a plush jail. The last time I spoke to his lawyer, he told me the general was enjoying his Havana cigars and coffee. Now it seems he will need to replenish his supplies and prepare for a long legal battle in the Pakistani courts.