It’s difficult not to have a sense that Pervez Musharraf is belatedly getting a taste of his own medicine. This time round, however, at least the house arrest of Pakistan’s former president/dictator, following his brief flight from court, is in some conformity with the rule of law – he faces charges of illegally detaining judges after he had sacked the chief justice and imposed emergency rule in 2007.
Musharraf is also to answer allegations that he failed to provide adequate security to prevent the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Unsuccessful attempts have been made to charge him with treason for his imposition of emergency rule
The latest in Musharraf’s long battles with the judiciary reflects a significant shift in Pakistan’s culture of impunity for the military and the latter’s waning influence over a state it has ruled for half its existance. The former president was well aware of the likely charges when he returned from four years self-imposed exile to contest ongoing parliamentary elections – he was disqualified by the election commission on Tuesday – and, bewilderingly, assumed the judges would not dare touch him. Times change, and even his old friends in the army have so far not protested against the arrest.
Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999 and resigned in 2008, and he had returned last month to Pakistan. It was a strange decision to come back to a political climate and realities that could hardly be worse for him.
His most biiter rivals are very much still in place: Nawaz Sharif, the onetime prime minister whom he overthrew in 1999, is likely to win the May election; and, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whom Musharraf fired, remains firmly ensconced at the head of the Supreme Court. And, apparently confirming that his political judgment has left him almost entirely, he has just given an interview admitting to having authorised US drone strikes in the tribal belt, a statement that contradicted years of denials. In Pakistan that is tantamount to political hara-kiri.