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Yaqoob Malik: A familiar story about fallen Pakistani leaders

Yaqoob Malik spent three weeks with The Charleston Gazette in October through the U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism, a program operated by the International Center for Journalists. He now contributes occasional articles to the Gazette-Mail from Islamabad. ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- It's said that history repeats itself, and it may be happening in Pakistan right now.

Former president, retired Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is facing the same fate in the regime of his political rival -- Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif -- that had been carried out upon Sharif under Musharraf's rule 14 years ago.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal recently arrived in Pakistan, which sparked rumors that he is here to discuss Musharraf's future.

Faisal, in response to media questions in Islamabad on Wednesday, denied having any discussion about Musharraf's trial with Pakistani leaders and explained that Saudi Arabia follows a policy of non-interference in internal matters of other countries.

Earlier, the Pakistani government also denied that the Saudi minister visit was linked to Musharraf's treason trial and explained that the Saudi prince was here to discuss various proposals for cooperation in trade, economy, investment and the energy sector. 

The presence of the Saudi minister could be a coincidence, but political and media experts believe his visit could be to rescue the helpless Musharraf, who has received threats on his life from extremists and other rival groups due to his Lal Masjid operation, which resulted in the killing of Baloch chieftain Nawab Akbar Bugti and deposed the country's top judges after he toppled the government of Sharif in October 1999.

It is strongly expected that Musharraf would be exiled to Saudi Arabia or any other favorable country on medical grounds, as he has been in a military hospital since Jan. 2 due to cardiac problems.

The president of the Pakistan People's Party, Punjab Mian Manzoor Watto, while addressing the press in Lahore recently predicted Musharraf will get exile just like Sharif.

This same drama, but with different characters, recalls when a Saudi Prince arrived in Pakistan in December 2000 to rescue Sharif when he was in Attock Fort jail and facing conspiracy and corruption charges in the military regime of Musharraf, which led to the forced exile of Sharif to Saudi Arabia, political analysts observed at the time.

Sharif's supporters sought help from Saudi Arabia for clemency for Sharif and his family on humanitarian grounds, noting that he was suffering from high blood pressure and heart problems at the time.

Sharif was eventually given a double life sentence on the charge of hatching a conspiracy to hijack Musharraf's plane as it returned to Pakistan from China. The Saudi royal family brokered a secret deal that assured the military regime that Sharif would neither give any statement against them nor would he return for at least nine years.

As a result, Musharraf allowed Sharif to go into exile with 18 members of his family, including his younger brother Shabaz Sharif (now chief minister of Punjab).

Afterward, Musharraf formed a political party under the banner of Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q; also known as the King Party) with the help of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain (now PML-Q president) and his cousin, ex-chief Minister of Punjab Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, both of whom were close political friends of Sharif before Musharraf toppled his government.

Musharraf camouflaged his military rule and succeeded to prolong it for nine years under so-called democracy without any fear as his rival (Sharif) remained out of the political game. Musharraf, with the help of the Chaudhrys, took easy access to the presidency and became a sovereign ruler as head of state and army simultaneously.

The U.S. government also played an important role to support the Musharraf regime as he had extended help to make Pakistan a front-line ally of the U.S. in launching the war against terrorism against the Taliban and al-Qaida in the aftermath of 9/11 tragedy.

But bad luck began for Musharraf when his King Party underwent a miserable defeat in October 2008's general elections. It forced him to step down as Army chief and later as president as the new Pakistan People's Party-led parliament elected Asif Ali Zaradri as president.

Soon after the fall of Musharraf's rule, the Chaudhrys also parted ways from him. Ultimately, Musharraf, who was creator of the King Party and then remained its boss for nine years, was not given room in the party, at which point he become powerless, forcing him into self-exile.

The party again was defeated in 2013's elections, as they got only two seats out of a total 342 in the National Assembly.

To beat the political isolation, Musharraf formed his own political party -- the All Pakistan Muslim League -- and decided to return to his home country after more than four years in the United Kingdom.

But he faced a strong reaction from pro-democratic forces and threats from various extremist groups. So, instead of building his dream to become a successful player in country's politics again, he found further trouble as many cases were opened against him, including the assassination of former Premier and PPP leader Benazir Bhutto.

As a result, he was detained in his own farmhouse near Islamabad, which was declared a sub-jail by the government because, due to security reasons, his detention in an ordinary jail was not possible.

Earlier, his well-wishers inside Pakistan and abroad had advised him to avoid returning to Pakistan. His situation became very tough when Sharif's government filed a high treason case against him.

So, the 70-year-old past conqueror, who enjoyed his nine-year sovereign rule with heavy boots and strong shoulders in uniform, is now alone and powerless, struggling to save his skin, deprived even of a single sympathetic look from the politicians who once pledged their support.

Although only time will tell exactly what happens with Musharraf's future, there has been rampant speculation in the media that he would be evacuated from the country under medical pretenses, presumably with the guarantee of Saudi Arabia, which may be based on the condition that he never return to his homeland -- or at least until the end of Sharif's regime, which runs until 2018.

And then history will have truly repeated itself.


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