Musharraf’s Return?

LAHORE – Pakistan’s former president, Pervez Musharraf, has decided to return to Pakistani politics, if not quite to Pakistan. He announced his decision at London’s National Liberal Club, an institution founded in the nineteenth century by William Gladstone and other stalwarts of Britain’s parliamentary tradition.

The choice of venue was, of course, steeped in irony. Musharraf did not uphold the Gladstonian tradition while he was in office for almost nine years, from October 1999 to August 2008. Indeed, he admitted as much in his speech at the launch of his political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, from a safe distance of thousands of miles from an increasingly turbulent Pakistan.

Although Musharraf did not elaborate on his “mistakes,” the reference was obvious: his impulsive decision in March 2007 to fire Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from the Supreme Court. The judge had refused to be directed by the president and the military in deciding important constitutional matters, including Musharraf’s own eligibility to contest the presidency while still in uniform.

The second “mistake” came the following November, after Musharraf’s government failed to contain the legal community’s impressive civil-disobedience movement to pressure the government into reinstating Chaudhry. Musharraf, again acting impulsively, placed the country under emergency rule when Chaudhry was brought back by a decision of his own court. Chaudhry was fired again, a move accompanied this time by a wider shakeup of the already shaken-up judiciary. The government emptied the Supreme Court of relatively independent judges and installed a more “trustworthy” group.