The legal shackles on Pervez Musharraf, the former president and army chief of Pakistan, seem to have snapped as suddenly as they had clamped shut. Mr Musharraf’s bail application, which had been rejected several times, has been approved by the apex court. This not only ends his house arrest but also gives him the freedom to walk out of the country. Mr Musharraf’s legal counsel and his party have argued that he has no wish to escape the court battle or to quit the country. Given that the courts have woken up to the paltry evidence against him, he might not, ultimately, have to do either. Mr Musharraf had been a perfectly dispensable element in Pakistan’s politics even at the time he had decided to end his exile and return to the country — only, he had not realized this. The drubbing he has received in the elections, coupled with his experience with the judiciary, may have driven some sense into him.
Mr Musharraf’s self-realization cannot but be of enormous benefit to the ruling Nawaz Sharif government. If he decides to fade into oblivion on his own accord, the government will have less trouble on its plate. Already bogged down by an economic crisis and the Taliban threat, the Sharif government has no wish to remain trapped in the past. Also, Mr Musharraf’s smooth handling will ensure that the civilian establishment does not rub the army the wrong way. With a sharply deteriorating situation on both the eastern and western borders and the steady escalation of violence inside the country, the Sharif government cannot do without the army. It seems to have made up its mind about setting aside the job of straightening civil-military relations in the country for later. If the deft handling of Mr Musharraf and his future is one indication of this, the Sharif government’s handling of the forthcoming retirement of General Ashfaq Kayani is another. The government has kept it a low-key affair, with enough feelers being sent to the army about the government not being averse to re-appointing Mr Kayani in a more responsible role. Mr Kayani’s firm announcement of his retirement in end-November has come from himself, and not from the Sharif government. All this could only mean that in spite of the promises the regime change in Pakistan has held, events suggest that Mr Sharif is either unwilling or unable to break free of the set mould.