The General’s Misfortunes
Will Pakistan make history by putting an ex-army chief on trial for high treason?
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.