The Gen­eral’s Mis­for­tunes

Will Pak­istan make his­tory by putting an ex-army chief on trial for high trea­son?

Southasia - - COVER STORY - By S.G. Ji­la­nee The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer edi­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

From whichever an­gle you look at it, the in­eluctable con­clu­sion is that for­mer pres­i­dent Gen. Pervez Mushar­raf is up to his neck in a soup into which he took a will­ful plunge. And the soup is hot. Who­ever it was that in­jected into his mind the fan­tas­tic idea that he could be a po­lit­i­cal leader was cer­tainly not his best friend. But why he, a man of ma­ture in­tel­li­gence, fell for it is a ques­tion that bog­gles the mind. He launched yet an­other Mus­lim League un­der the ti­tle of All Pak­istan Mus­lim League and be­come its pres­i­dent. No doubt he had some fol­low­ers among the re­cip­i­ents of his largesse when he was in power. But he must have been aware that he had no mass fol­low­ing. Nor did any­one in his party seem to have a siz­able vote bank, while his en­e­mies were lined up in full pub­lic view, bay­ing for his blood…

Yet, he re­turned from self-ex­ile to launch his elec­tion cam­paign to con­test the 2013 polls, just as Be­nazir Bhutto had re­turned tri­umphantly to take part in the 2008 elec­tions. Both waived aside coun­sels against the reck­less step. And, as Be­nazir’s en­e­mies stalked her to her death, so have Mushar­raf’s en­e­mies been pur­su­ing him.

They wanted him for the killing of Nawab Ak­bar Bugti, Ab­dul Rashid Ghazi of the Lal Masjid and for Be­nazir Bhutto’s as­sas­si­na­tion. Add to that the per­sonal grudge Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif has been nurs­ing against Pervez Mushar­raf for more than thir­teen years and the anger of the ju­di­ciary for the way he had hu­mil­i­ated the Supreme Court judges, in­clud­ing the chief jus­tice.

Mushar­raf had the first full taste of dis­il­lu­sion­ment when the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers re­jected his nom­i­na­tion pa­pers from all the four con­stituen­cies he had sought to con­test, while the Pe­shawar High Court also de­clared him in­el­i­gi­ble for con­test­ing elec­tion for life. For Mushar­raf per­son­ally, the door for po­lit­i­cal de­but was closed.

The Pan­dora’s Box opened next and out popped the ghosts of Bugti, Ghazi and Be­nazir. In ad­di­tion, he was charged un­der the anti-ter­ror­ism law for de­tain­ing the Supreme Court judges on the com­plaint not of any of the ag­grieved judges but of a third party, one As­lam Ghum­man. The case fiz­zled out be­cause Ghum­man with­drew his com­plaint and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion found no ev­i­dence to sub­stan­ti­ate the charges against Mushar­raf. The mur­der cases are pend­ing but al­most in all cases he has been granted bail.

Mean­while, the PML-N govern­ment gave a new twist to Mushar­raf’s mis­for­tunes by fil­ing a case against him for “high trea­son” un­der Ar­ti­cle 6 of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the said ar­ti­cle, “Any per­son who ab­ro­gates or sub­verts or sus­pends or holds in abeyance, or at­tempts or con­spires to ab­ro­gate or sub­vert or sus­pend or hold in abeyance, the Con­sti­tu­tion by use of force or show of force or by any other un­con­sti­tu­tional

means shall be guilty of high trea­son.” The pe­ti­tion claims that by declar­ing emer­gency on Novem­ber 3, 2007, Mushar­raf com­mit­ted all the five of­fences at once.

The trial has loop­holes aplenty. Even the cred­i­bil­ity of the judges try­ing him is it­self at stake be­cause of the se­lec­tive use of Ar­ti­cle 6 against Mushar­raf only. No one else was named as co-ac­cused, even though it is un­think­able that Mushar­raf would have acted alone in such a crit­i­cal mat­ter. Be­sides, Mushar­raf’s lawyers claim that one of the judges try­ing him was among those di­rectly af­fected by Mushar­raf’s dec­la­ra­tion of emer­gency. More­over, Nawaz Sharif has also ex­posed him­self to the al­le­ga­tion of vendetta by ig­nor­ing Mushar­raf’s 1999 coup when he had openly ab­ro­gated the Con­sti­tu­tion.

How­ever, so far Mushar­raf has not at­tended the hear­ing of the trea­son case on var­i­ous grounds.

Var­i­ous as­pects of the trial are be­ing hotly de­bated be­cause this is the first time ever that a mil­i­tary gen­eral is be­ing sub­jected to prose­cu­tion in a civil­ian court in Pak­istan and on the charge of high trea­son. How the army might re­act see­ing its ex-chief un­der trial is still not known but may be­come clear as the trial pro­ceeds. A few days ago, Mushar­raf claimed in a me­dia in­ter­view that he en­joyed the full sup­port of the army, to which there has been no re­ac­tion from any army source.

In­ter­est in Mushar­raf’s trea­son trial is, how­ever, con­fined to politi­cians, some lawyers, a few colum­nists and TV talk shows. Some ex­tol his trial as a mile­stone in Pak­istan’s jour­ney on the road to democ­racy. Oth­ers cen­sure it as a crude at­tempt by the govern­ment to dis­tract pub­lic at­ten­tion from other more press­ing prob­lems. The pub­lic re­mains dis­in­ter­ested, par­tic­u­larly, be­cause the mem­ory of eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, growth and well-be­ing un­der Mushar­raf’s rule is still fresh. Many com­men­ta­tors also re­call that it was he who gave the me­dia the kind of free­dom it had never en­joyed be­fore.

Mean­while, the visit of Saudi for­eign min­is­ter to Is­lam­abad set the ru­mor mill in full mo­tion about the like­li­hood of Saudi Ara­bia in­ter­ced­ing on Mushar­raf’s be­half with Is­lam­abad. Even though the Saudi prince dis­missed the sug­ges­tion that his visit was linked with Mushar­raf’s case, it did not gel, be­cause, there was no other plau­si­ble rea­son for the event.

On the con­trary, it would be in the fit­ness of things if Riyadh were to come to Mushar­raf’s as­sis­tance. When Nawaz Sharif was un­der a sim­i­lar predica­ment, Riyadh came to his res­cue and took him with his en­tire fam­ily to Saudi Ara­bia. So, it would be log­i­cal for it to play a sim­i­lar role in Mushar­raf’s case.

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