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Year of Living dangerously for Musharraf

By Manish Chand, IANS

New Delhi : It was the year of living dangerously for an embattled General Pervez Musharraf – a chain of events that included the suspension of chief justice and a spate of terrorist attacks on the way, culminating in the imposition of emergency Saturday that was triggered by the fear of losing power he has enjoyed for over eight years.

In many ways, it’s the make-or-break year for Musharraf as he seeks re-election – elections are slated for January next year – eight years after he overthrew the elected government of Nawaz Sharif and became the ruler of Pakistan eight years ago.

His latest move – declaring emergency – is powered part by desperation to hold on to power tenaciously and partly by a very real need to crush the juggernaut of extremism in his country that he has characterised as a “liberal modern country” in his autobiography In the Line of Fire.

The imposition of emergency was in fact aimed at pre-empting the Supreme Court’s hearing Monday which was to decide whether Musharraf was eligible for re-election while remaining army chief. Two months ago when the rumours of emergency were doing the rounds, the US intervened and made it clear that they will not tolerate any deviation from Musharraf’s plan to pass power to civilian democracy.

But that was temporary reprieve.Musharraf has been in the firing line virtually the whole year from literally all sides, left, right and centre. Civil society, including lawyers and journalists and good old liberal Pakistanis, that once lionised him and took his military rule in good humour presuming that he is going to be better than corrupt democrats turned against him in vengeance after he arbitrarily sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary on March 7 this year. In a blow to Musharraf’s authority, the Supreme Court reinstated Chaudhary July 20.

The religious right, comprising fire-spewing fundamentalists and the ISI mentors of Taliban furious with Musharraf for genuflecting at the altar of the almighty America, put up a grim battle to reclaim their fading relevance – a festering issue that left Musharraf with no choice but to order army action against radicals holed up inside Lal Masjid in July 10 this year that left over 100 people dead.

This was followed by a wave of deadly militant attacks and suicide bombings, some of them targeted at army installations.

In fact, the new strident assertion by the mullah-jihadi forces nexus resulting in a spate of suicide attacks underscored the need for tackling radical extremist head on. “The Talibanisation of the Pakistan society was going too far,” says Nilofer Bakhtiar, former tourism minister.

The most deadly and spectacular terrorist attack this year was when a suicide bomb assassination ripped through Bhutto’s convoy October 19, which killed 139 people and left hundreds injured. Bhutto was heading a procession through Karachi on returning from eight years of self-imposed exile.

Nearly 800 people have died, most of them in suicide bombings, since the storming of the Lal Masjid in July.

Sceptics may say raising the bogey about extremism is just a ploy by Musharraf to perpetuate his self-rule and consolidate his hold over the power base, but the scare of a Taliabanied Pakistan is very real.

Another important event in Pakistan’s national life this year – and one that shows Musharraf’s paranoia about losing power was – the return of Sharif September 10. Sahrif was arrested within hours of arriving at Islamabad airport and sent back to Saudi Arabia.

As though jihadi forces were not headache enough, America, another crucial pillar of the trinity which presides over Pakistan including Allah and Army, was not too happy with Musharraf for failing to deliver on his commitments in the war against terror.

A resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, aided and abetted by a section of the Pakistan military establishment, was predictably a sore issue with the powers-that-be in Washington.

The American backers of Pakistan were quick to put Musharraf on notice and pushed him hard to hold elections and restore some semblance of democracy in that country. They also promoted a power-sharing understanding between former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf.

Musharraf’s current term expires on November 15. Detractors of Musharraf may wish otherwise, but this uncanny military man has survived many an assassination attempt and may as well ride over this year of living dangerously.