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Friday, January 3, 2014

Pakistan’s Former President Absent From Trial

In this April 20, 2013, photo, Pakistan's former president and military ruler Pervez Musharraf arrives at an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Anjum Naveed/AP)

In this April 20, 2013, photo, Pakistan’s former president and military ruler Pervez Musharraf arrives at an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Anjum Naveed/AP)

Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military ruler, is supposed to be in court facing charges of high treason.

But so far he has failed to show up for three scheduled hearings. He missed the latest hearing because he had chest pains, according to his lawyer.

Musharraf ruled Pakistan between 1999 and 2008, but his bid to make a political comeback has been dogged by corruption allegations.

He spent much of last year under house arrest.

The BBC’s Owen Bennett Jones joins Here & Now’Robin Young to discuss the Musharraf trial.

Guest

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler of Pakistan, is trying to make a political comeback, but there's one difficulty: he's also on trial, facing charges of high treason. And so far he hasn't shown up for three scheduled hearings. His lawyers say he missed the first two because of concerns over security. The third because he was rushed to the hospital with heart problems, even though he's an active swimmer and a former army commando thought to be in good health. Here's one of those lawyers, Ahmed Raza Kasuri.

AHMED RAZA KASURI: In the process of moving toward the court, he had sudden - some ailment, and for that he was immediately, instead of bringing him here, shifted to AFIC, Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology.

YOUNG: A sudden sort of ailment. The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones joins us from London. Owen, your sense of what's going on with Pervez Musharraf.

OWEN BENNETT-JONES: Well, as regards to the health problems, you know, who knows? But I think the twist is fair, probably have something valuable to add to this when a number of people tweeted that this route to the hospital had been secured by security personnel before...

(LAUGHTER)

BENNETT-JONES: ...the alleged medical incident. And at the same time, we've got this diagnosis by medical doctors from the army which will not be disclosed to the public. So I think there's a huge amount of skepticism in Pakistan about the nature of the illness.

But I just want to sort of say one thing about that to balance it out. Asif Zardari has just been the president of Pakistan for five years, and shortly before he took up that post, he had to spat off a corruption case in Switzerland and got himself diagnosed with dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress.

YOUNG: Ah.

BENNETT-JONES: And he managed to govern as president for five years after that. So, you know, I mean, there is a dishonorable history of this sort of thing in Pakistan.

YOUNG: Well, but you mentioned that the security had secured his route to the hospital before he even had problems. Remind us, who are the players here and give us a bit of the thumbnail that brought us here.

BENNETT-JONES: Yeah, OK. So Musharraf, military dictator, took over, 10 years in power or so, gets kicked out, ends up in exile in London. Ludicrously thinks he can make a political comeback. Everyone told him he couldn't. He said he had 600,000 followers on Facebook and that he could do it. I mean, it was just a mad idea. Got back, there were about 20 people there to welcome him rather than the million he hoped for. And, you know, it was a disaster. And so then he ends up, you know, under house arrest.

And the new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, got a personal grudge against him because Musharraf bunked(ph) Nawaz Sharif into a particular nasty prison in a place called Attock Fort in Northern Pakistan for a bit. So there's a history of grudge. And now Nawaz Sharif is the prime minister and Musharraf is the one who is facing a court case. So it's a story of political revenge, political folly and we'll see whether he ends up in jail or in exile.

YOUNG: Well, the court case is related to his decision in 2007 to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule. He's being tried for treason. But his defense team is saying that he can't get a fair trial, precisely because of that history you just described, and the fact that the current Prime Minister Sharif is biased, to put it mildly, against him.

BENNETT-JONES: Yeah. Well, I mean, the whole thing is political, obviously. The whole thing is judicial to an extent. I mean, they've chosen their case very carefully. It's been extremely difficult to work out what to charge him with because they don't know who to bring down with him and the implications of doing that. The big picture is you've got Nawaz Sharif, prime minister who certainly has a grudge against Musharraf.

You've got the army who do not want to see one of their former chiefs put in prison. And, of course, it would be a major disincentive to future coups if he went to prison because army chiefs might think, well, you know, everyone who got on his radar might end up in a prison cell. So I think for many democrats in Pakistan, they are very much hoping this trial goes ahead. For many in the army, they are very much hoping that it doesn't.

And there is a battle now, between the army and the government of Nawaz Sharif, and Mr. Musharraf's fate is what's at stake. And we'll see who prevails, as I say, whether he goes to jail as the government would want or the exile, you know, just got out of the country and all hushed up as the army would want.

YOUNG: Well, isn't there also the possibility of death penalty?

BENNETT-JONES: Oh, I don't think they would like that.

YOUNG: Yeah, that's...

BENNETT-JONES: That never happens with senior Pakistanis. They always talk about it, but, I mean, the death sentence is, theoretically, in place in Pakistan. And, of course, you know, and there was a famous case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto being executed by General Zia. But no one is thinking about what happened there.

YOUNG: Well, but what does it mean in a broader sense, there's also a sense that part of this is a big smoke screen on the part of the Pakistan government, so that Pakistanis won't look at other problems that exist. And, of course, we, being American, have to ask, what about us? You know, what does this mean for U.S.-Pakistani relations?

BENNETT-JONES: Well, it was a smokescreen. Yeah. I mean, yeah, sure. I mean, you know, Nawaz Sharif has never been terribly keen on governing. And, you know, he's got these huge problems, which he's failing to engage with. So, of course, the business, I mean, his last term in office - you know, when Musharraf kicked him out - was entirely devoted to shoring up his power base and doing nothing to do with education or health or with things that actually worry Pakistani's, and of course the same is happening again. And this is a magnificent political drama playing out now, which captivates everyone and which means that, you know, attention is diverted in the political arena from these key social issues that affect the population.

As for the U.S., I have to say, for once, I don't think you've got a dog in this fight. I'm sure that comes with...

YOUNG: What?

(LAUGHTER)

BENNETT-JONES: Exactly.

YOUNG: What? There's nothing to do...

BENNETT-JONES: Be very glad you - no, not really because, I mean, you know, Musharraf is a busted flush politically. What happens to him is - it's a personal issue. And those who like him and admire him will hope he has a satisfactory retirement. Those who think he was a damaging element to Pakistan's democratic development will hope he gets punished, you know? But that's just how they feel about it. In terms of Pakistan's development or U.S.-Pakistan relations, this is not a key issue.

YOUNG: Yeah. So what do you think happens here, just in the immediate? He hasn't shown up in court, is expected - there's another hearing scheduled for Monday.

BENNETT-JONES: Yeah, I mean, there's been so many rumors about it. From the moment he was caught, it was, you know, his mom was going to be ill in Dubai and they we're going to get him out on those grounds, that he had to go and see his mother. And now we've got this health issue. No doubt there'll be the suggestion that only some sort of doctors in London could cope with it and that he'll have to go there for treatment. So there'll be some kind of attempt to make a face-saving, you know, solution to this problem, that the court's honor can remain intact and then he'll just be get rid off.

But, you know, it may be that the government puts his foot down and says no, you know? You can have treatment in Pakistan, and we'll go ahead with this trial. So, you know, we don't know yet. It's a journey, I think, you know, nobody knows how this is going to resolve itself as to who's going to emerge as the stronger force.

YOUNG: The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones on the situation in Pakistan as there is an attempt to bring the former military ruler of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, to court. Owen, thanks so much.

BENNETT-JONES: It's a pleasure. Thanks. Happy new year.

YOUNG: Same to you.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

And, Robin, this quick note back here stateside before the break, perhaps something to do between shoveling stints in parts of the country: the NFL playoffs begin this weekend with wildcard games, two tomorrow. The Kansas City Chiefs play the Colts in Indianapolis tomorrow afternoon, and the New Orleans Saints will travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. And on Sunday afternoon, the San Diego Chargers visit the Bengals in Cincinnati, and the San Francisco 49ers play the Packers in Green Bay. I'm feeling cold already because fans will have to bundle up for that game.

YOUNG: Oh, I have folks in Wauwatosa. They can handle it.

CHAKRABARTI: They can - the Cheeseheads can handle cold.

YOUNG: And by the way, real quick, did you see a tweet that said it's, what, colder in Canada than on Mars?

CHAKRABARTI: Yes, colder than in Mars - than on Mars in Canada right now.

YOUNG: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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