Then he started making mistakes that turned Pakistani public opinion against him. In 2006, army units killed Akbar Bugti, a veteran politician leading a low-intensity insurgency in the vast but sparsely populated province of Balochistan, which borders southern Afghanistan and Iran.
Musharraf now faces murder charges for the killing, in which he denies involvement.
His next error was to fire Pakistan’s chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, and other defiant Supreme Court judges in 2007 and have them placed under house arrest. In doing so, he gave Pakistan’s political opposition a rallying cause.
A once sympathetic media turned hostile after Musharraf restrained it from covering the mounting judiciary-led opposition and closed non-compliant cable news channels, including Geo News, the market leader.
Musharraf’s gravest political error, however, was to risk all by returning to Pakistan, a decision that baffled the country’s political commentators and apparently was taken against the advice of army chief Kayani. When ignored, Kayani was instrumental, with the assistance of the influential governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in persuading the mainstream political party leaders not to push for his prosecution.
But by the time he returned, Chaudhry had been back on the bench for years. It was Musharraf’s imprisonment of the Supreme Court justices that sparked the charges being heard in the Islamabad high court on Thursday.
Musharraf now faces the daunting prospect of a treason trial, for his illegal 1999 overthrow of an elected government led by Nawaz Sharif, then the prime minister, who was first imprisoned and then forced into exile in Saudi Arabia. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party is expected to win the most seats in the May 11 election and form the next government.
But Musharraf’s fate may rest in the hands of the Supreme Court judges he sacked in 2007. Ominously, the court on Wednesday ruled that if the caretaker government did not exercise its executive authority to set up a special tribunal to hear treason charges against Musharraf by Monday, then the court would.
Musharraf’s lawyer, Ahmad Kasuri, has sought to exploit the awkward position of the military, saying any prosecution would necessitate charges of aiding and abetting against many army generals for endorsing the 1999 coup and other unconstitutional acts. But whether that will be enough for Kayani to interfere in the events now playing out remains to be seen.