The possible return of former President Pervez Musharraf to Pakistan for the first time since leaving the country in 2016, has sparked a bitter debate over the military dictatorship he has ruled for more than a decade.

Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup that toppled the government of Nawaz Sharif and held the presidency from 2001 to 2008 when he resigned to avoid accountability. Since then, he has spent most of his time in self-imposed exile in Britain and the Middle East.

As a key ally of the United States after the 9/11 attacks, his tenure was notorious for repression and rampant human rights abuses, particularly in recent years. In 2007 he suspended the constitution, imposed martial law, dismissed the chief justice, and arrested activists and lawyers, sparking mass protests.

The 78-year-old suffers from amyloidosis, a rare disease that occurs when an abnormal protein builds up in organs and interferes with normal functions. He has been hospitalized in the UAE over the past few weeks and his family says he is unlikely to recover. Local media reported that he had expressed a desire to spend “the rest of his life” in his homeland, and a military spokesman said on Tuesday that wish would be fulfilled.

Raza Rabbani, a former leader in the Senate, said he was vehemently opposed to allowing the ailing ex-president to return, calling Musharraf’s reign “an epic of oppression in Pakistan”.

Rabbani told the Guardian that Musharraf left a series of institutions weakened by his attempts to “rewrite civil-military relations in favor of the army.” He also accused him of overseeing political assassinations and “selling and bartering Pakistanis to America and giving up Pakistani interests.” [to the US] After 9/11″.

The famous Musharraf He said in an interview: “I think the Constitution is just a piece of paper to throw in the trash.”

During his reign, Sharif and another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, were barred from voting in the elections and went into exile. Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 2007 under a death threat. She claimed that she faced threats from Musharraf. Shortly after her return, Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi.

Musharraf returned from self-imposed exile in March 2013 to secure a seat in that year’s general election. A trial for treason against him began in 2014, but in 2016 Musharraf was allowed to leave the country after a conditional release – a move widely interpreted as a sign of the government’s capitulation to the military.

Haris Khaliq, Secretary General of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that Musharraf encouraged the May 11, 2007 riots in Karachi that left 48 people dead. Musharraf was also accused of facilitating the enforced disappearance of political opponents and fomenting an uprising in Balochistan when he launched a military operation in the province.

Musharraf’s defenders say the private media has made progress under his rule, but journalist Hamid Mir said the introduction of private media did happen under Bhutto.

“Instead, Musharraf imposed systematic censorship,” Mir said. He added that “the military regime closed all private channels in November 2007 for publishing reports on the return of the justice movement.”

Asim Sajjad Akhtar, a writer and political worker, said Musharraf had received “rewards” from Washington by joining the so-called “war on terror”. Musharraf authorized drone strikes on the former tribal areas and provided safe haven for some Afghan Taliban factions.

“Like all dictators before him, Musharraf was summarily ousted from power, and his family’s desperate attempts to bring him back to Pakistan on his deathbed is a sad indictment of the immense power of the military and his refusal to abandon it,” Akhtar said.

In 2019, Musharraf was convicted of high treason for suspending the constitution and declaring a state of emergency in 2007. He was sentenced to death. The ruling was later overturned.

Khaliq said Musharraf should be allowed to return on humanitarian grounds, but that Pakistan should also set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to mark the 75th anniversary of its independence in August.

“Keep the historical record straight, go ahead and focus on the mistakes of both autocratic and dictatorial civilian leaders since Ayub Khan. An inventory of the past 75 years,” he said.

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