Trial and Turbulence
If the current crisis vis-à-vis. Gen. Musharraf’s trial continues, the pressure could force the army chief to act.
The high treason case against General Musharraf has placed the pillars of the state and society in an anticipated quandary. The fault lines are deep and have further accentuated the inherent dichotomies.
The judiciary has been pushed to an inevitable position of being both the judge as well as a party to the case. Consider how Chaudhry Iftikhar, the unrestrained former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, became politicized after Musharraf’s illadvised move of November 03, 2007 to impose emergency on the pretext of conditions that were not as worse as they were made to look only to justify the new order.
As he concentrated all the powers in his person, Gen. Musharraf asked the judges of the higher judiciary to reaffirm their oath under the revised order. Having already done so twice
in the past – in various formulations – to consolidate Musharraf’s rule, some judges, including the CJ, refused to give cause to Musharraf to arbitrarily remove the chief justice along with the other erring judges.
Although Chaudhry regained his position in March 2009 as a result of a long agitation launched by some heavily politicized lawyers and political parties against Musharraf, he did not forget the treatment meted out to him and returned the favor when the opportunity arose.
He may have been seen as simply pursuing cases petitioned by others against Musharraf, but the irony of it all failed to escape notice in this fascinating see-saw of power between the two.
Chaudhry Iftikhar was not as holy a judge as he seemed to have become mainly due to his symbolic refusal to bow before a military ruler. He had already compromised his integrity in 1999 by sanctifying Musharraf’s takeover.
Neither was without blame. Musharraf hoped to extend his stay in the Presidency through another court adjudication, but sensed a reluctance in the Supreme Court to play ball. He thus felt forced – for motives that were entirely selfish – to seek other avenues to achieve his objectives and resorted to the imposition of emergency.
The CJ paved the way for Musharraf by his overzealous interventions in theh executive’s domain, especially by suspending the planned privatization oof the Pakistan Steel Mills. But when Musharraf moved a reference against the CJ in the Supreme Judicial Council, the brother judges of Chaudhry Iftikhar declared it null and void.
Enter the complicated games of politics. Mian Nawaz Sharif, then the leading opposition figure in the country to the Zardari government, and a coterie of well-known lawyers since elevated to the position of saviors of Chaudhry Iftikhar, started a movement to pressurize the government of the day to reinstate the suspended judiciary.
The demand was conceded, making Chaudhry Iftikhar eternally indebted to Nawaz Sharif. It was another suitable accompaniment that a close relative of the CJ was reportedly a key member of Nawaz’s party and was the law minister in Shahbaz Sharif’s government in the Punjab.
To say that Nawaz had an earlier axe to grind with Musharraf would be an understatement. Musharraf had removed Nawaz from power in 1999. They were thus already locked in a deadly embrace. Chaudhry Iftikhar’s entry converted this into a triangular relationship where Musharraf was the common target of the other two.
With Nawaz Sharif in power after the May 2013 elections, it was only a matter of time before he moved against Musharraf.
Sharif made his move but by initiating a case against Musharraf under Article 6 of the Constitution and also placed the Chief of the Army Staff, General Raheel Shareef in an unenviable difficulty.
Gen. Shareef’s men expect him to ensure the dignity of their institution, the army, against malignant accusations that are sure to emerge when their former chief is dragged through various courts. Raheel Shareef, on the other hand, is known as a mild man not given to assert his proverbial strength as the army chief.
In Pakistan the army has always retained a strong, perpetual influence and has ruled the country for half of its existence as an independent nation. A process of gradual regress was started by Gen. Kayani but it can fall victim to the brewing internal discomfort within the army as the media and the civil society debates the army’s rather assumptive interventions in the affairs of the state.
With the increase in Musharraf’s tribulations while he remains an absconder from the court meant to try him – either because of the sickness that came his way at the moment of trial or due to security concerns that appear to be contrived events to prove the dangers that lurk around his public presence – the speculation industry will only gain further impetus.
The army and its new chief would rather move the spotlight away as the institution fights a complex and deadly war against insurgency. For the new chief, his honeymoon has been rather short.
The senior military leadership is nuanced enough to understand the evolving democratic structures and its affiliated accompaniments – a free media and a vocal civil society. But it is not loath to voice the prevailing sentiments among its subordinates to the senior-most leadership.
The junior officers are more likely to see things in black and white. To their sensibilities, speculative aspersions on the integrity, honor and dignity of their institution is akin to personal indignity and dishonor.
The politicians, civil society and the media have been rather callous to this sensitivity in the army. The prevailing sentiment in the army is that with democracy has begun an effort to malign the army.
The trend that has persisted in the media, and is likely to prevail with Musharraf on trial, is to discuss issues related to civilian supremacy, civilmilitary balance and the role of the military as the country passes through one of its most turbulent periods since its inception.
Does it have the potential of a backlash where the military might once again upset the democratic order? Unlikely. What necessitates a military takeover in essence is massive dissatisfaction with an existing order. A normative solution would perhaps be a referral back to the electorate by the sitting government if it indeed determines that as a dominant sentiment. It has happened in Thailand in the recent past.
But, given the lack of sufficient fidelity in our existing political sentiment, democratic governments continue to hold onto power howsoever unpopular they might be.
If such a situation was to be supported by a bottom-up disaffection with a political system within the army, the pressure could be such that the army chief would be pushed to act. If such disaffection takes root, it will come with many indicators.
If politics underperforms, all bets are off. If Pakistan underperforms, our state will be at risk regardless of the type of dispensation.