On Monday, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) was ordered by the Supreme Court (SC) to unblock former military dictator General (R) Pervez Musharraf’s national identity card (NIC) and passport.
Musharraf’s NIC and passports had been blocked as part of the hearing of the treason case against him, with the former army chief having failed to appear in court. Musharraf left for his fort in Dubai two years ago, citing ‘medical treatment,’ in what has since turned out to be self-exile.
However, last week the apex court allowed Musharraf to submit his nomination papers for the upcoming general elections, under the condition that he face charges against him in court.
In doing so, the SC overturned the April 2013 Peshawar High Court decision to make Musharraf ineligible to contest elections for life. While Musharraf, the chief of All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), looks all set for a return, the move is being vociferously criticised in multiple quarters.
The loudest among the voices is that of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted from office during the Panama Papers hearing in July last year, with the Supreme Court declaring his bid for the Parliament ineligible for life in March.
“Is there any law which can empower someone sitting in a high office to give assurance to a military dictator who is facing a high treason case, the Akbar Bugti murder case, the Benazir murder case, judges’ detention case and was involved in Lal Masjid operation?” Nawaz said while talking to the media last week.
“On the other hand, the same court disqualified me from holding office in my own political party, removed me from the office of prime minister, and barred me from contesting elections for life on the charge that I had not received a salary from my son.”
Since his disqualification last year, not only has Nawaz Sharif propagated the narrative that the military establishment is interfering in the realm of democracy, but has also alleged that it is working in tandem with judiciary.
Veteran Supreme Court lawyer Abid Hassan Minto suggests that the verdicts taken over the last year or so vindicate Nawaz Sharif’s position.
“If you look at the decision, there is clear inconsistency and it is perfectly understandable why Nawaz Sharif is peddling his narrative,” he says.
“He has every right to disagree with the verdicts given against him. That is why people have been given the right to appeal.”
In his recent interviews Nawaz has also said that he is “bearing the brunt” of initiating the treason trial against Musharraf. Last month, Nawaz made a statement on the Mumbai attacks, and claimed that the 2016 Dawn Leaks were true. While those claims are being seen as the former premier looking to muster international support ahead of the general elections, the military establishment not only perceives it as a direct attack on the institution, but also dubs the narrative ‘anti-Pakistan.’
Many jihadist groups have been pushed into the mainstreaming process, under the auspices of sections of the military establishment, to dismiss Nawaz Sharif as anti-state.
One such party is the Milli Muslim League (MML) that was formed in August last year, a couple of weeks after Nawaz Sharif’s ouster.
“Nawaz Sharif’s so called narrative is based on his personal friendship with [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi,” says MML Finance Secretary Ehsan Ullah. “It is no coincidence that he is openly going after the armed forces now. He is showing his true colours.”
With the likes of MML and Tehrik-e-Labbaik (TLY) are seen as attempts to discredit Nawaz Sharif and dent his vote banks in the Punjab, it is the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), which is being banked as the establishment’s trump card.
However, with MML and TLY contesting elections, and Musharraf returning to Pakistan, the military establishment appears to be covering all its bases ahead of the elections, with judicial support.
“The decision [to allow Musharraf to contest elections] reeks of double standards,” says security analyst Lt Gen (R) Talat Masood, former secretary of the Ministry of Defence Production.
“The judgment, which is poor and belies common sense, gives the impression that Pakistan’s judicial system definitely needs an overhaul.”