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Asia

'Musharraf doesn't need to flee Pakistan'

Pakistani rights activist Karamat Ali tells DW that former Pakistan military ruler does not need to fake a heart problem to avoid a treason case against him and flee the country. The case is 'too weak,' he says.

On Thursday, January 2, former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf was taken to hospital after suffering a "heart problem" on his way to court. According to media reports in Pakistan, "three vessels in Musharraf's heart are blocked and he would either require an angioplasty or a heart by-pass."

The 70-year-old former president was summoned by a special tribunal in Islamabad for declaring a state of emergency and suspending the constitution in 2007 at the end of his eight-year authoritarian rule. Musharraf is Pakistan's first former military chief to face such a trial. In November, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government submitted a petition to the country's Supreme Court seeking the trial of Musharraf on treason charges under Article 6 of the Pakistani constitution. If convicted, Musharraf could face the death penalty or life in prison.

Speaking with DW from New Delhi, veteran Pakistani rights activist Karamat Ali says that the treason case against Musharraf is not strong and that he does not need to flee the country.

Karamat Ali (Photo: PILER / DW)

'Military officers and civilians are not equal in Pakistan,' says Karamat Ali

DW: Pakistani media claims that Pervez Musharraf has struck a deal with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government and that he would possibly be taken out of the country on pretext of health issues. Do you back these claims?

Karamat Ali: You cannot rule out the possibility of a political deal in Pakistan. But I do not think it is possible at the moment considering the nature of the case against him. He cannot leave the country until the courts permit it.

Musharraf recently said in an interview that the Pakistani military was supporting him. Is Sharif's government under pressure from the powerful Pakistani generals who are reportedly unhappy with the trial of their former chief?

There is certainly some sort of pressure on the government. No military general has ever been convicted or punished by courts in Pakistan. It is happening for the first time. Pakistani military generals enjoy a privileged status in Pakistan, so to say that all Pakistanis - civilians and military generals - are equal before the law and should be treated in a similar way is easier said than done.

Musharraf claims that Prime Minister Sharif has a personal vendetta against him and that is the reason behind the treason case against him. What do you say about it?

I don't agree. It is true that Musharraf ousted Sharif in a coup in 1999 and sent him into exile to Saudi Arabia, but the treason case against Musharraf is not related to the 1999 coup; it is about his imposition of emergency in the country in 2007. And if the 1999 coup against an elected government was not treason, and the courts had already legitimized it, how could his 2007 act be treason? You must have noticed that everyone, including Sharif, is quiet about the 1999 coup. In any case, the imposition of emergency is not as big a crime as overthrowing an elected government.

So you're saying that the case against Musharraf is weak and that he does not need to leave the country?

Yes. I don't think the treason case against Musharraf can hold in the courts.

A section of Pakistan liberals admire Pervez Musharraf a great deal and claim that the former president's eight-year rule was one of the brightest eras in Pakistan's history. What do you have to say about Musharraf's liberal credentials and his future in Pakistani politics?

I think that a lot of Pakistani liberals supported Musharraf after the 1999 coup because the preceding Sharif government was very conservative and right-wing. But liberalism should be looked at in the democratic context. Musharraf did nothing to strengthen and promote liberalism institutionally. We did not see people enjoying more democratic rights during his government. And despite being an unconstitutional ruler, Musharraf was one person who could do that. He had a lot of opportunities to work for the promotion of pluralism and tolerance in Pakistan but he squandered all chances. Therefore, in my opinion, Musharraf has no future in politics. I don't understand why he thought that he enjoyed a massive support in Pakistan after his return from exile last year. He never had any.

Do you think it is crucial for Pakistani democracy that Musharraf be tried? Is it necessary to set precedence and minimize the role of army in politics?

Why should only Musharraf be tried? All those who were in government at that time - the civilian and military leaders - should face a fair trial. Musharraf was the army chief at that time but he represented an institution which was also involved in the whole affair. The military as an institution should be tried. Singling out Musharraf shows a non-serious approach. Nothing will come out of this trial, and I don't think Musharraf needs to flee the country. It is a bogus case.

The interview was conduced by Shamil Shams.

Karamat Ali is Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), a non-governmental organization in Karachi, Pakistan. He has been involved in political, labor and peace movements in Pakistan and has played an important role in linking up these movements with regional and global counterparts.