New York, March 24 (IANS): The Pakistani government should hold former military ruler Pervez Musharraf accountable for human rights abuses when he returns to Pakistan, Human Rights Watch has said.
Musharraf announced that he intends to return on March 24, 2013, after over four years in exile to be a candidate in parliamentary elections scheduled for May.
Legal proceedings are pending against Musharraf in several human rights cases, Human Rights Watch said.
In November 2011, Musharraf was charged with involvement in the killing of Akbar Bugti, a Baloch nationalist leader who died under unclear circumstances while hiding in a cave in August 2006, after a long standoff with the Pakistani military.
In February 2011, Musharraf was declared an absconder after a court in Rawalpindi accepted the interim charge-sheet from Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency, which named the former president as one of the accused in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Musharraf has also been charged with the illegal removal from office and confinement of much of the country's judiciary, including the serving chief justice of the Supreme Court, from November 2007 to March 2008.
"Musharraf should not be allowed to elude the serious legal proceedings against him on his return to Pakistan," said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch.
"Only by ensuring that Musharraf faces the well-documented outstanding charges against him can Pakistan put an end to the military's impunity for abuses."
Musharraf has the distinction of having suspended constitutional rule twice during his time in office, Human Rights Watch said.
After declaring a state of emergency in November 2007, he began a violent crackdown and ordered the detention of some 10,000 political opponents -including most of the country's Supreme Court judges.
The fired chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, five other judges, and several leading lawyers remained under house arrest and were released only when the opposition Pakistan Peoples' Party formed a government and took over the prime minister's office in March 2008.
"Given the personal suffering many judges endured at Musharraf's hands, it will be a real test for Pakistan's judiciary, especially the Supreme Court chief justice, to ensure that prosecutions are impartial," Hasan said.
"But this is a test they must face and pass if Pakistan is to send a clear message that it will not allow abusive military leaders to escape accountability."
Under Musharraf's watch, the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies committed widespread human rights violations, including the enforced disappearances of thousands of political opponents, particularly from Balochistan province, and tortured hundreds of Pakistani terrorism suspects.
Political opponents including high-profile opposition politicians were exiled, jailed, tortured, and in some instances murdered.
Hundreds of "disappeared," especially from insurgency-hit Balochistan, remain unaccounted for and are feared dead, Human Rights Watch said.
"Throughout his years in office, Musharraf maintained that he was fully aware of the behavior of security forces in Balochistan and that they had done no wrong," Hasan said.
"His role in the widespread abuses in Balochistan, including 'disappearances' during his rule, needs to be investigated and appropriately prosecuted."
During the emergency, he shut down over 30 television channels and passed decrees muzzling the media.
Throughout Musharraf's rule, security forces repeatedly coerced, abducted, arbitrarily detained, beat, and tortured journalists working for both local and international media.
Several journalists died in alleged custody of the security forces.