By Anwar Iqbal
“We rotate these days among people … the only being who cannot and will not perish is your Lord.”
We were inside the parliament building, saying Friday prayers after a stormy Senate session. What we witnessed inside made all of us feel humble and subdued.
“Put Pervez Musharraf in the same cell where he put Nawaz Sharif. Let snakes and scorpions into his room. Let him cry out in pain,” said one of the senators as the lawmakers vented their anger against the former military ruler.
“Handcuff and shackle him and parade him through the streets,” said another senator.
I opened a little window to the recent past and found myself in the army chief’s official residence in Rawalpindi where Musharraf was staying after toppling Nawaz Sharif. He was still the chief executive of Pakistan, a strange title he coined for himself before moving to the president’s office.
We were there with a media team to interview him. Some members of his advisory team were also there, including a Rawalpindi politician. Musharraf sneezed. Three of these advisors ran to him, holding tissue papers. The Pindi politician reached him first. Others looked at him with envy.
None of them came forward to defend the former dictator when PPP, PML-N and ANP lawmakers berated him this Friday, although some of them were present during the debate too.
The senators also targeted the caretaker government for failing to arrest Musharraf after an Islamabad court refused to grant him bail.
They wanted him “hauled to the worst prison” in the country, as a PPP senator said. Later, one senator also suggested that he should be hanged for toppling a lawfully elected government.
Above all, they wanted him “disgraced, dishonored and humiliated” as a “warning to future adventure seekers.”
The retired general, however, had already suffered much humiliation. The man who once hauled the country’s chief justice to his office and tried to persuade him to resign is now forced to appear before junior magistrates, seeking bail.
But that’s not enough for his enemies. They want more. “Do to him what they did to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir and Nawaz Sharif,” said one senator, ignoring a plea from the Senate chairman not to get carried away.
The sane among them, however, did warn their colleagues not to go too far. “The ground realities must not be ignored,” said a senior PPP senator. “After all, he is a former army chief and the military obviously will not like this humiliation.”
He urged the angry politicians to seek a way out, proposing “consultation among all stake holders,” i.e. the interim government, the judiciary, PPP, PML-N, ANP and the military.
Other senators also agreed with the suggestion, saying that starting a treason trial against Musharraf will not stop at him. “Don’t forget that the present army chief was also attended Musharraf’s meeting with the chief justice,” said a senator.
The lawmakers pointed out that other civilian and military official also were involved in the crackdown on the judiciary. Then there were other senior generals who supported the coup. And there are judges who endorsed it.
And why stop at Musharraf’s coup? What about Zia’s, Yahya’s and Ayub’s martial laws?
The lawmakers – not just from the MQM or PML-Q – warned that a treason trial will ultimately pitch the military against the civilians and will end up hurting both.
“The question is: Can the country afford such a conflict and do we even need one?” asked a senator.
The discussion moved back to a possible way out of this conflict. Some suggested arranging a “respectable exit” for Musharraf. Others said that Musharraf may not want to exit.
He might have come prepared for whatever is happening to him, may want to spend sometime in the prison, hoping to cash on the sympathy it may generate.
Other lawmakers said that Musharraf can be persuaded to see the risks involved in such a strategy. After all, the government cannot keep hundreds of commandos around his residence forever.
The Taliban, Lal Masjid Brigade and Baloch nationalists have all vowed to kill him and even a little mistake can have very dangerous consequences, they warned.
Some claimed that all those who have some influence in Pakistan – the military, the United States and Saudi Arabia – had asked Musharraf not to come. “Even his friends and relatives advised him against returning to the country but he ignored them all,” said one.
Others, who attended a lunch the chairman Senate hosted for a visiting journalist from the US, said Musharraf should realize that no one will miss him if he went back to Dubai or Britain.
They argued that by returning to the country, he had embarrassed everybody, the military, the caretaker government, political parties and even the judiciary. “Nobody wanted this unnecessary controversy. His absence suits all,” said one of them.
It was July 18, 1993. This was President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s last day in office. As he started to walk out, a journalist shouted: “Sir, you are indispensible for this country. How can you leave?”
Ghulam Ishaq Khan looked back and said: “Have you ever been to a graveyard? It is full of indispensables.”