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Is Musharraf's arrest a sign of a political shift in Pakistan?

In a remarkable first, former military dictator Pervez Musharraf was arrested and is being held in police custody just weeks after his return to run for prime minister in Pakistan.

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Pakistani men ride a motorcycle past posters showing former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday. Police arrested Musharraf overnight at his home in the capital, where he had holed up following a dramatic escape from court to avoid being detained, officials said Friday.

Muhammed Muheisen/AP

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Pakistan’s former military rulers have long been held responsible for the instability and militancy plaguing the country and for disrupting democratically elected governments. None have ever been held accountable. In a remarkable first, former Army chief Pervez Musharraf was arrested on Friday and is being held in police custody for two days.

General Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008 as Army chief, a self-styled “chief executive,” and later president, returned to the country last month after several years in exile. He had sought to participate in parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11, but was rejected by judicial officials overseeing part of the election process.

Given his party's status as a non-entity in Pakistani politics and his own exit from the electoral race, Musharraf's arrest is unlikely to have any impact on the election but will make for conjecture and debate in the days ahead.
 
“Musharraf’s arrest has less substantive implications for rule of law but is of much greater significance for the implementation of institutional equilibrium that Pakistanis have sought for the entire history of our country,” says political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi.
 

It has been a dramatic couple of days for the former military ruler. On Thursday, reports that Musharraf had “fled” the court for the safety of his house on the outskirts of Islamabad to avoid being arrested dominated conversation on news channels, on the streets, and online.

Musharraf faces a litany of criminal cases, but the one that has led to his arrest relates to the detention of Supreme Court judges in 2007, when he deposed the country’s chief justice. The Islamabad High Court ruled on Thursday that detaining judges of superior courts and preventing them from working was an act of terrorism according to the country’s law.

In Pakistan, it is common for politicians to be hauled up and sent to jail, and the same treatment has never been given to military rulers.
Ironically, Musharraf had amended the anti-terrorism laws in order to prosecute Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister whose government he overthrew in 1999.

Retired brigadier Javed Hussain, a former Special Services Group officer, has known Musharraf since he served as a captain in the elite Pakistan Army group.

“He asked for it,” Mr. Hussain says about his former colleague’s arrest. Hussain cites a number of examples of what he calls Musharraf’s failures as chief of the Pakistan Army, including going to war with India in 1999 and the Red Mosque operation in 2007.

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(Read Monitor reporter Robert Marquand's blog on Musharraf here)
 
“He has been guilty of lack of judgment. This isn’t to say that saner advice wasn’t given to him. He had reached a state where he believed he was repository of all knowledge and justice and everyone else was a moron, and that has let him down very badly,” Hussain says.
 
“Everybody says he was promoted well beyond his capacity,” he tells the Monitor. “Musharraf was defeated on the heights of Kargil and defeated by Iftikhar Chaudhry [the Supreme Court chief justice]. Within the military, people are against him,” he says.

“Barring a few, everyone who has been following his career while he was in charge of Pakistan holds him responsible for disgracing the Pakistan Army and for displaying utter immaturity in some of the decisions that were taken by him. Every step he took backfired. There you have it: a fallen soldier. That is Mr. Musharraf for you.”


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