Sunday, 13 July 2014

Zardari had assured US, UK, Kayani of Musharraf’s immunity, Amir Mir

Zardari had assured US, UK, Kayani of Musharraf’s immunity, Amir Mir
Sunday, July 13, 2014
ISLAMABAD: Former army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had played the most important role in brokering an immunity deal for former president General Pervez Musharraf in 2008, according to which Asif Zardari gave a firm commitment to the US, UK and Gen Kayani that indemnity for Musharraf would be forthcoming if he stepped down.

According to at least two leaked American diplomatic cables which had made their way to the international media on December 7, 2010, a series of political and strategic blunders by Musharraf had given cause and justification to both Asif Zardari and the then army chief General Kayani to work separately for his honourable exit.

In two separate cables written by then US ambassador to Islamabad Anne W. Patterson, details were given about how General Kayani (who had just been elevated as the army chief after Musharraf took off his uniform to retain the presidency), and Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the majority party in the new National Assembly (after the 2008 polls), had systematically started to distance themselves from Musharraf.

In a ‘brief’ and ‘talking points’ prepared for Admiral Mike Mullen during his early 2008 visit to Pakistan, Ambassador Patterson states:

“As expected, Gen Ashfaq Kayani is taking slow but deliberate steps to distance the army from now civilian President Pervez Musharraf.” In a separate cable about a meeting of US Representatives Adam Schiff and Allyson Schwartz with Asif Zardari in May 2008, the American ambassador had given details of how the PPP co-chairman (who later became president following Musharraf’s exit) advocated an ‘honourable exit’ for Musharraf.

According to the cable, “Zardari blamed Musharraf for not taking enough responsibility for the war on terrorism in Pakistan”, which resulted in a marked increase in anti-US sentiments in the country.

“Anti-US feeling will go away when the old faces go away,” the leaked cable noted, adding that the American government should no longer rely on just Musharraf in fighting terrorism. In her own assessment of Musharraf’s public standing, Ambassador Patterson wrote in the cable that a year ago, his popularity was high. But “beginning with his decision to fire the Chief Justice (Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry) in March 2007, Musharraf has made repeated blunders culminating in a state of emergency and temporary suspension of the Constitution”. A detailed reading of some of these cables suggest that by this time all three major players, Asif Zardari, General Kayani and the American ambassador, had made up their minds that time was up for the former military ruler who had already been accused of involvement in the tragic assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto.

According to one of the leaked cables, the US ambassador wrote on August 23, 2008, during her meetings with Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and General Kayani, immunity for General Pervez Musharraf was discussed besides some other issues. The US Ambassador met with Pakistan People’s Party leader Asif Zardari on August 23, 2008 with then prime minister Gilani on August 21 and with then army chief General Kayani on August 20, 2008.

“In separate meetings with Asif Zardari, PM Gilani and chief of army staff Kayani, the ambassador pressed for quick action on immunity for former Musharraf. Zardari and Gilani said flatly they were committed to providing immunity, but not until after the presidential election (now scheduled for September 6, 2008). Pushing immunity now, they believed, could jeopardize Asif Zardari’s candidacy. General Kayani expressed concern that if immunity becomes tied up with the ongoing debate over the judges’ future, it may never happen. Zardari plans to continue to slow roll action on the judges’ restoration but remains confident that Nawaz Sharif will not walk out of the coalition.

“Nawaz’s deadlines for action on the judges continue to pass unfulfilled; the next one is scheduled for August 27, 2008. The August 20 decision by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to back Zardari for president has strengthened Zardari’s hand against Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz is left with the option of walking out of the coalition, but having little prospect of forcing a new general election in the short term.

“Asif Zardari is walking tall these days, hopefully not too tall to forget his promise to General Kayani and to us on an immunity deal.”

According to the leaked diplomatic cables, “Asif Zardari told the US Ambassador that he was committed to indemnity for Pervez Musharraf.

The ambassador stressed that only the promise of indemnity had persuaded Musharraf to step down as president. We believed, as we had often said, that Musharraf should have a dignified retirement and not be hounded out of the country. Zardari (subsequently) cited a British anecdote about the Spanish empire and said: “Tell the most powerful man in the world that there is no way that I would go back on what I have said.” Zardari noted that he already had firmly committed to the US, the UK and chief of army staff Kayani that indemnity for Musharraf would be forthcoming.

As the ambassador urged him to do it quickly, Zardari said flatly that to do it before he was elected president would lose him votes, but he would pass both the legislation and a presidential pardon as soon as he was elected. Zardari then revealed that Musharraf had approached chief justice (Abdul Hameed) Dogar about issuing a restraining order against the impeachment motion, but Justice Dogar had refused. Zardari also alleged that Musharraf had planned to replace General Kayani as COAS if Dogar had blocked the impeachment. Zardari said he was trying to keep Nawaz in the coalition and was candid that he planned to tie up the judges’ issue for a long time. He added that parliament would debate the restoration of the judges; chief justice Dogar would then submit some rulings on the restoration of the judges; all this could take months. In the meantime, he was trying to persuade former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to become Governor of Balochistan.

Going by the same leaked cable which was written by the US ambassador, Zardari said he did not think Nawaz would leave the coalition, but he admitted the Pakistan Muslim League had become increasingly testy. He said that he had already agreed with Nawaz Sharif to curtail the powers of the president and then allow Nawaz to be eligible for a third term as prime minister; both measures would require constitutional amendments. Zardari said he also had leverage over Shahbaz Sharif, who through paperwork snafus, had been technically elected illegally for a third term as the chief minister.

This, too, would have to be resolved in parliament, Zardari said. “So I can give them something they want,” noted Asif Zardari, “that’s what politics is all about.”

According to the leaked cable, after an August 20 (2008) meeting with the visiting S/CT Coordinator Dell Dailey, General Kayani asked the ambassador to stay behind and discuss his concerns that Asif Zardari was delaying General Musharraf’s immunity bill. Kayani had heard the large meeting of coalition partners (chaired on August 19, 2008 by the newly returned Bilawal Bhutto) had discussed the judges primarily. Then they decided to take a 72-hour break to consult the party members.

General Kayani said he took Asif Zardari’s commitments to now ex-president Pervez Musharraf as the most important argument in persuading him to resign. Asif Zardari made very specific commitments to Kayani. Now, for Asif Zardari to delay makes him (Kayani) look bad within his own institution “and I have to take the Army along with me.” Kayani also noted that the delay does nothing for Zardari’s reputation for trustworthiness. If this issue gets conflated with the judges and with Zardari’s own desires to be president, it will become too complicated to pass, Kayani said.

The US ambassador met with Prime Minister Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik for 30 minutes on August 21, 2008. Gilani said the PPP was going to provide immunity to Musharraf, but the timing was important.

They were afraid that putting forward immunity legislation would lose them votes for Asif Zardari‘s presidential campaign. The ambassador pressed on this issue, saying that Musharraf would never have agreed to resign without the promise of immunity. He assured the ambassador that he and the party did not want vengeance. Regarding immunity, Gilani said “many will say that we have done a deal with America, but I still understand that we have to do it.”

Six years later, Gilani revealed on Friday that an understanding had been reached with the establishment that Musharraf would be given an honourable exit if he resigned, instead of going through impeachment proceedings.

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