ISLAMABAD - A five-member US Congressional delegation held a secret meeting with former President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday at his Chak Shahzad sub-jail residence, reliable sources confirmed to The Nation.

Led by Senator Joe Donnelly, the delegation included Senators Heidi Heitkamp, Tammy Baldwin and Chris Murphy, and Congressman Peter Welch. US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson also accompanied them. They discussed with Musharraf the current status of his trail and its impact on his party and country’s political situation.

The former dictator reportedly told the US legislators that he did not want to leave the country as a deserter but with dignity and honour. He told them that he, being an Army commando, was not afraid of cases against him but he wanted justice from the investigators and the higher courts.

This meeting is significant as some media reports say that the military establishment as well as the present caretaker government wanted a safe and dignified passage for the former military ruler to leave the country. But Musharraf’s close aides insist that he won’t leave the country without settling the cases against him.

Sources also said that Musharraf told the US legislators that he did not trust the courts because the lawyers’ community and judges seek to take revenge from him because of his past actions against the judiciary. He also complained that his close associates too were in hot waters these days and facing fake cases from the lawyers’ community.

When contacted, Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Aamir Saeed said that he was unaware of this meeting and that “no permission was issued by my office to this affect”. Despite repeated attempts, Islamabad chief commissioner could not be reached on phone for confirmation of the news. US embassy spokesperson was also not available to comment.

Musharraf, who returned from exile in March to hoping for a political comeback has been entangled in a number of cases, the most serious one being the treason trial. The latest blow to his ambitions came when on Tuesday the Peshawar High Court handed him the lifetime ban from contesting elections.

The same day Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani, in a speech at army headquarters marking Martyr’s Day, hinted that he was unhappy with the detention of the retired general. In a veiled reference to the legal troubles dogging Musharraf, who has been placed under and over treason-related charges, he said: “In my opinion, it is not merely retribution, but awareness and participation of the masses that can truly end this game of hide-and-seek between democracy and dictatorship.”

Staff Reporters add: Before concluding their three-day visit, the congressional team met with Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Defence Secretary Lt-Gen (r) Asif Yaseen Malik, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, Election Commission Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan and representatives of civil society and discussed the current status of bilateral relations, forthcoming elections in Pakistan and regional issues, including the situation in Afghanistan.

The delegation expressed the hope that consolidation of democracy in Pakistan would further deepen bilateral relations between Pakistan and the United States. They noted that May 11 elections will mark a historic democratic transition, and reaffirmed the US commitment to build a bilateral partnership with the government elected by the voters.

During the meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani underscored the importance of Pakistan’s traditional relationship with the US and apprised the legislators about various facets of this relationship, particularly the people to people contacts and their benefit. He appreciated the US support for growth of democracy in Pakistan. He also briefed the US side on recent developments with regard to peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The congressional delegation acknowledged the importance of Pak-US relationship in the current international environment and reiterated support to the development of democracy and democratic institutions in Pakistan. The US side also took note of Pakistan’s efforts for regional peace and prosperity.

On their visit to the Ministry of Defence, the US delegation was briefed on important issues relating to bilateral ties, particularly those related to cooperation in war against militancy and terrorism. The US congressmen expressed satisfaction over Pakistan’s efforts, role and support in the war against terror.

Later, a meeting held between Senator Donelly and Defence Secretary Asif Yasin focused on regional security matters. Donnelly observed that there was a rapid improvement in Pak-US ties in the post-Salala incident and the relationship was on an improved trajectory. The improvement in the relations can be seen by visible increase in cooperation and restoration of ground lines, the senator noted.