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Musharraf's Triumphant Return Goes Awry

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf holds a copy of his party manifesto for the forthcoming general election at his residence in Islamabad on April 15.
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf holds a copy of his party manifesto for the forthcoming general election at his residence in Islamabad on April 15.
A legal stranglehold is tightening on a man who once ruled Pakistan with an iron fist.

Former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf was officially taken out of the running for the country's upcoming general elections on April 16, when an appeals court rejected his candidacy in a remote northwest district.

Musharraf returned to Pakistan last month from self-imposed exile abroad with hopes of saving Pakistan from economic and political ruin.

The former president's strategy involved entering his name in four constituencies in the hope that he could win one, enter parliament, and put himself in a position to become prime minister.

Earlier this week he was disqualified from running in Islamabad, Karachi, and the Kasur district of the eastern Punjab Province.

His nomination was initially accepted in the Chitral constituency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where as president from 2001 to 2008 he had traveled and launched development projects.

But, on April 16, the Peshawar High Court's election tribunal ruled in favor of an appeal against his candidacy in Chitral. Musharraf's lawyer has said the decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In each case, his candidacy was ultimately denied in relation to his dismissal of senior judges and the imposition of emergency rule in 2007, which was deemed unconstitutional.

Musharraf now faces a long list of potential charges he had avoided while abroad, including accusations of murder and treason.

Lukewarm Welcome

Lawyer Iftikhar Gilani, who has followed Musharraf's legal woes, says that Musharraf's decision to return to Pakistan after four years of self-exile has proved to be a disaster.

According to Gilani, far from being greeted as a savior by supporters, as Musharraf reportedly expected, the lukewarm welcome he received has only added to his legal and security problems.

"A majority of our people were very angry with what he did [during his time in office]," he says. "The lawyers, too, are against him. Their bar associations are trying to become a party in every case against him and they are pushing very hard in the courts. Nothing seems to be going right for him."

The 69-year-old is facing a petition from prosecutors in the Supreme Court that aims at trying him for treason in relation to his dismissal of judges in the Supreme Court and provincial High Courts as well as the imposition of emergency rule in 2007.

Separate court proceedings are investigating his alleged role in the December 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the killing of civilians in the July 2007 military raid on the Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad. The mosque was believed to be a center for pro-Taliban extremists.

Musharraf is also one of the key defendants in a case concerning the 2006 killing of a senior politician in the restive southwestern Balochistan Province.

Musharraf has dismissed all charges against him as "baseless and politically motivated." He has amassed a large legal defense team to navigate the Pakistani courts.

The former president has been granted bail in some of the cases, but courts have banned him from leaving the country.

Gilani suggests that the country's judiciary has strongly asserted itself in recent years, which will make it very difficult for courts to close their eyes to Musharraf's alleged misdeeds.

"For the past five, six years the Supreme Court and the [provincial] High Courts have stated that they will uphold the constitution, come what may," Gilani says. "He has clearly acted against the constitution, so it will be very difficult for the courts to just let him go simply because they never tried another military dictator in the past."

Gilani maintains that, because Musharraf has little popular support, his legal troubles are likely to increase. "I don't think that things are going to improve for him," he says.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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