Musharraf’s safety deal mightier than parliamentary zeal Army won’t be comfortable with its ex-chief’s humiliation; local and foreign underwriters including US, UK, Saudi Arabia guaranteed safe exit
KARACHI: (By Kamran Khan) When Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani hinted in the National Assembly on Wednesday that institution of a treason case against Pervez Musharraf was not “doable”, he was actually alluding to those unwritten assurances provided to the former military ruler from the ruling coalition, military leadership and Pakistan’s trusted international friends in the week that followed his resignation from the office on Monday, August 18, last year, according to most informed political and security sources.
Asking the opposition led by the PML-N not to play to the gallery on the issue of Musharraf’s trial, the prime minister advised the House on Wednesday that: “We should do what is doable,” Gilani, intentionally, did not elaborate the “doable”.
Multiple sources with direct knowledge of what happened in the corridors of power between August 11 and August 18 last year said that the deal that finally saw Musharraf’s departure was cobbled together by the top PPP leaders, including President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson, Britain’s special envoy to Pakistan Sir Mark Lyall Grant and an emissary of the King of Saudi Arabia.
“The bottom line of this deal was to grant Pervez Musharraf a graceful departure from the Presidency with guarantees that there would no impeachment or court proceedings against him in future,” said a senior official with the direct knowledge of what happened in the decisive week.
“There is no guarantee to what happens to Musharraf in distant future, but the deal promises no official disgrace for Musharraf under the present government.” Prime Minister Gilani’s recent statement and President Zardari’s advice to “Friends” in an interview last week “to leave the politics of revenge” further testifies the sanctity of the arrangement reached in August last year. Notwithstanding the deal, senior PPP leaders seem convinced that Nawaz Sharif’s growing pressure on the government to file sedition charges against Musharraf were actually a political attempt from the PML-N to pitch the PPP government against the army.
“Mian Saheb, we [the PPP] have had enough of confrontation with the army and have given enough of sacrifices, this time please excuse us now, you go ahead and do the job,” this was the response of President Zardari to Nawaz Sharif when the later insisted that the government should go ahead and file sedition charges against Musharraf during President Zardari’s visit to Sharif’s Raiwind estate for a “courtesy meeting “ on 17th of last month.
“This is a fantastic deal which none of the participants would own or confirm, yet there is nothing to suggest any violation of this unwritten agreement,” the official said. “Its more sacred than most written political agreements.”
Units from all three military services gave Musharraf a final salute before a warm send-off by three services chiefs and the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee that followed his historic resignation speech.
“This was all very carefully choreographed to give a message to the nation and the world that no military rebuke was attached to Musharraf’s departure after nine years in the Presidency,” according to a senior security official.
“Pakistan Army is least interested in General Musharraf’s political ambitions and its subsequent fallout, but his trial for past actions by this government would make things uncomfortable,” the same source observed.
Another sources said the presidential security both from the army and civil law enforcing agencies including provisioning of armoured vehicles and continued stay at the Army House – the official residence of the army chief – were provided to the former president till he lived in Pakistan as part of the same deal.
The international element in Musharraf’s exit deal also promised similar treatment and protocol for him during his stay abroad. It may not be in common knowledge that during his stay in Britain, the British government has provided him a 24-hour security cover with armed personnel and armoured vehicle, an arrangement reserved for very important people in Britain.
Incidentally, it was Britain that had played a key role in stitching the final deal for Musharraf’s departure by sending Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s former ambassador to Pakistan who is known for his deep personal ties with both top PPP and PML-N leadership, in the second week of August last year.
“Sir Grant’s visit was a turning point,” informed an impeccable source. “He had the clout and ability to convince Musharraf that it was time to go and to simultaneously request Zardari and Nawaz Sharif not to mess with Musharraf’s departure, but the final screws were driven by General Kayani, whom the British envoy had met last.”
Sir Grant returned to London on August 14, as the army leadership began to write the final act in Musharraf’s saga in power. Incidentally, on August 15 last year, only a day after Sir Grant’s return to London from Islamabad, respected Financial Times wrote an editorial under the headline: “Bye Bye Musharraf.” Giving an identical advice given to top Pakistan political leadership by Sir Grant in the last few days, the Financial Times wrote in the same editorial:
“But that [Musharraf’s imminent departure] does not mean it [Pakistan Army] will stand by and watch General Musharraf, its former chief of staff, humiliated by parliamentary impeachment. The ruling coalition must not overplay its hand because Pakistan cannot afford another layer of crisis.”
Multi-layered efforts were made from London to Washington to Islamabad to Riyadh to make sure that political leadership, particularly Nawaz Sharif, does not try to disrupt Musharraf’s graceful departure.
Various sources confirmed that in the final act before Musharraf retired to his bedroom Sunday night to prepare for his resignation speech due next day morning, the military leadership, including Gen Kayani, CJCSC Gen Tariq Majid, the then ISI DG Lt Gen Nadeem Taj and Rawalpindi Corps Commander Lt Gen Mohsin Kamal, spoke at length with their former commander in chief and soothed him with heartfelt assurances on future treatment.
On a separate front Sir Mark Lyall Grant’s clear message to Musharraf was followed by similar messages, in shape of telephone calls, from the then United States Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. At the same time, US Ambassador Anne W Patterson was working phones and meeting political and military leadership in Islamabad to ensure that a formal end of nine years of military rule in Pakistan remains as smooth as possible.
On political front Messers Mark Grant and Anne Patterson secured full assurance from both Asif Zardari and Premier Gilani that they were not interested in any impeachment or future trial of Pervez Musharraf and at the same Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Awami National Party in direct communication with the former president informed him that they would like a graceful departure for him, and, in future also, they would not be part of any political attempt to drag him to courts.
An interesting behind the scenes meeting that took place between Musharraf and the ANP President Asfandyar Wali at the height of the controversy over his future remained secret to the media.
At least two senior official sources insisted that Musharraf finally made up his mind to resign after a private conversation with the Custodian of two holy mosques King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on August 16, 2008.
“King Abdullah backed Musharraf’s decision with a firm affirmation of continued close personal relationship and offered him to consider Saudi Arabia as his homeland,” one source said.
Since leaving, Musharraf is believed to be in touch with King Abdullah whom he met also in May this year. After the private visit, King Abdullah gave Musharraf his private royal aircraft for a return journey to London from Riyadh.
“I’m sure if Nawaz Sharif raised temperature for Musharraf’s trial under treason, King Abdullah would intervene on Musharraf’s behalf.” This was an impression gathered by one of Musharraf’s friend after the former president’s last meeting with King Abdullah.
The deal to grant a secured graceful exit from power between the PPP, international powers, military and Pervez Musharraf was second in series of such unwritten deals whose sanctity was observed even under most difficult scenarios.
For example, an unwritten agreement reached between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto Shaheed as a result of their meetings in London and Abu Dhabi in 2007 remained intact even after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination when Musharraf continued in power several months after the elections in exchange for granting unprecedented pardon in all corruption cases registered under Nawaz Sharif government and pursued during his tenure as military ruler against many PPP leaders and federal and provincial officials.