I cannot say if he is ‘more sinned against than sinning’- that be left to history. The 13th Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf came to power through a military coup in 1999. He became tenth president of the country. What catapulted him to the central stage of politics in his country is a different debate right now that is not my cup of tea. It is a caged general than one in office invoking sympathy amongst common people in Kashmir is a poser to me.
During his nine years rule Kashmir has been central to his policy. Compared to Asif Zardari’s policy of putting Kashmir on the backburner he worked on exploring the possibilities of resolving the sixty five year old dispute amicably. True, after 2004, he could not carry all the Hurriyat leaders with his four-point formula but it would be wrong to say that he had become bête noire in Kashmir. Some of the leaders saw the formula as a way forward and some others saw it as move to strengthen the status quo. They looked at the formula as betraying Pakistan’s stated position on Kashmir and saw it in conflict with the right to self-determination as guaranteed to the people in the UN resolutions.
It is also true that he did not have as big a fan club on our side of the LoC as many other former Pakistan leaders including dictators had in the past. But, if posts on the social networks and wayside discussions are any indicators, after being caged the former President has evoked sympathy amongst common Kashmiris. Minus some young men castigating him for his role in the Lal Masjid, a larger section of Kashmir society have been sharing their anger against the Judiciary and the caretaker government in Islamabad on social networks- facebook and tweeter. In their posts on social network, they have been targeting partiality of the judges in dispensing justice to him. The Peshawar High Court on Tuesday handing him the lifetime ban from contesting elections is seen as denial of fundamental rights to him.
Some commentators saw Justice Shawkat Aziz Siddiqui, of Islamabad High Court hearing the cases of the former President as ‘miscarriage of justice’. Siddiqui after losing 2002 election by a big margin had served as the lawyer for Abdul Aziz, one of the top clerics of the Lal Masjid, against which Musharraf ordered a military operation in 2007. He was up in arms against Musharraf during the lawyers agitation and in recognition President Asif Zardari appointed him as Additional Judge on November 21, 2011.
Pervez Musharraf added to his profile in Kashmir after quitting from office. His outspoken speech in India Today Conclave and some candid interviews on Indian television channels ironically added to his popularity in Kashmir- the more ostensible reason for his increasing graph in Kashmir was people drawing a comparison between him and Asif Zardari.
More than elections in the neighboring country people have been evincing greater interest in trials of the former general. The reported secret meeting of US Ambassador to Pakistan, Richard Olson along with a delegation of Senators and Congressmen with Jailed Musharraf on Wednesday in Chak Shahzad sub-jail residence and discussion thereof are seen as a major development. Many Kashmiris see him as bold soldier for telling American that ‘he did not want to leave the country as a deserter and being an Army commando, was not afraid of cases against him but he wanted justice from the higher courts.’
It is not for the first time that people in Kashmir are taking interest in developments in Pakistan. In fact, Kashmiris have all along been keenly watching developments in the country with which the state shares over a thousand kilometers long border. He is not first former President or General of the country who has evoked sympathy in Kashmir for not being treated fairly by his own people. In 1948 when Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah passed away, despite Jammu and Kashmir being ruled by one of his known adversaries, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah people mourned his death for weeks and in a most suffocating atmosphere hoisted black flags on the roof tops. So was at the assassination of Liquate Ali Khan- many had connected his killing to his support for Kashmir.
In the post, Liaquat Ali period when Kashmiris felt betrayed because of the policies of Governor General Ghulam Muhammad and Iskander Mirz , they had started looking towards the first military ruler of the country General Muhammad Ayub Khan as a leader deeply committed to Kashmir. His engagement with India for finding an amicable settlement of the problem added to his popularity in the state. Eagerly waiting for his monthly radio broadcasts people generally glued their ears to radio sets on first of every months expecting a breakthrough in Kashmir impasse. Notwithstanding Kashmir cause, receiving a setback at Tashkent, and young generation in Pakistan rising in revolt against him people in Kashmir were sympathetic to him.
It is ironic, when people in Pakistan rejoiced fall of their leaders Kashmiris came on the streets in support of the fallen leaders. On 4 April 1979, when BBC announced news about hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto people in Kashmir were shell shocked and came on the streets in thousands raising slogan against America and Martial Law Administrator General Zia-ul-Haq. The then Machiavellian rulers exploited the people’s anger and anguish against their political opponents. The houses and property of the Jammat-e-Islamia leaders and their supporters and were attacked and a number of villages were reduced to rubble. For more than a week, protests against hanging of Bhutto were held all over Kashmir and hilly areas of Jammu province. Ironically, when General Zia-ul-Haq died in a mysterious C-130 Hercules plane crash on August 17, 1988 people in Kashmir mourned his death with equal intensity. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in popularity of the caged general having increased in Kashmir.