LAHORE - Dysfunctional Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (CNAK) has been in news for the past few weeks because of his “differences” with the PML-N leadership over a number of issues. Most reports say the leader from Chakri is annoyed, inter alia, because the prime minister is reluctant to let former president-COAS Gen Pervez Musharraf go out of Pakistan at this crucial phase of the high treason trial. He also feels uncomfortable because of the alleged interference in his ministry by some other elements, possibly with a nod from the top ruling party leadership.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif held a number of meetings with CNAK these days in an attempt to sort out differences and then arranged talks between him and the prime minister at Raiwind. The conduct of the interior minister in the days ahead would reflect the degree of success or failure of the talks held so far.
It is said that CNAK had assured the incumbent military leadership that once Gen Musharraf appeared before the three-judge special court and faced indictment, his name would be removed from the Exit Control List – and he would be free to go out of the country to inquire after his ailing mother and do whatever he likes. It was because of his firm assurance that the relevant quarters persuaded Gen Musharraf, staying at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology for several weeks, to appear before the court. The former president-COAS did what he was told to do. He was charge-sheeted, and became the country’s first army chief in history put on trial under Article 6 of the Constitution.
After indictment the government refused to honour its part of the reported commitment. Gen Musharraf’s name was not removed from the ECL and thus he could not leave the country. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif regards Musharraf his enemy number one and is determined to teach him a lesson for overthrowing his government, his oft-repeated claims that “I have nothing personal against him”, notwithstanding.
This caused tremendous embarrassment to CNAK and, out of frustration, he went into seclusion.
Observers say that CNAK is a leader who wants things done the way he likes. People still remember the news conference he had held in November last year to announce that the government is going to start the trial of Gen Musharraf. The news was broken a day after the Darul Uloom Taleemul Quran Ashura tragedy in which about a dozen people had been killed and about 80 others injured. The nation was cursing the Punjab government for its failure to maintain peace on Ashura that CNAK came up with a more important subject to deflect attention.
The trial was started and has already covered many phases. But now the minister wants the “only accused” in the case be allowed to go abroad. Who is the minister trying to fool? Either initiation of the trial was a wrong decision or seeking a relief for the accused is an undesirable move.
Some say that the minister is trying to be too smart. He pleased the anti-Musharraf political leadership by announcing the trial and now he is trying to please the military leadership by seeking relief for the former dictator. “Running with the hare and hunting with the hound” proverb is, perhaps, used in such situations.
(There are speculations that CNAK is trying to emerge as a leader who could replace Mr Sharif in case of a change in the political situation).
Needless to point out that this trial has strained civil-military relations. As of today, Mr Sharif has emerged as the strongest leader. Not only is he the first leader to become prime minister for a third time, he can also claim to be the only leader who put a former COAS on trial on high treason charge. The struggle between the political and military leadership for dominance has been going on since decades. So far, the military has been trouncing the political leadership at will. Now the PML-N leadership is determined to reverse the situation, no matter what the price.
There will be no justification to let Gen Musharraf go out of the country now. The trial should be taken to its logical conclusion. Let the world see how the rulers singled out Musharraf to settle scores with him. Let the army see its former boss humiliated.
Knowledgeable sources say that if the interior minister has linked normalisation of his ties with the prime minister to relief to Gen Musharraf, then he may have to face disappointment. Mr Sharif wants the trial completed at the earliest. Once the former COAS is convicted, the prime minister will be willing to get him pardoned to oblige Musharraf’s friends – at home and abroad.