Musharraf’s fate hanging in the balance?

Musharraf’s fate hanging in the balance?
Musharraf’s fate hanging in the balance?

The announcement made by Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif on Monday to try the incarcerated General Musharraf for high treason under Article 6 of the constitution became the focus of everyone’s attention.

The PM averred that the federal government fully endorsed the Supreme Court’s decision in the Sindh High Court Bar Association’s case, in which the court’s verdict on July 31, 2009 stated that Musharraf’s act of holding the constitution in abeyance was unconstitutional and an act of high treason. Musharraf had declared an emergency on November 3, 2007 suspending the constitution and sacking virtually the entire superior judiciary. Musharraf’s trial has been a hot topic ever since he came back to Pakistan before the May 11 elections. The interim government under Mir Hazar Khan Khoso had stayed away from initiating proceedings against Musharraf, claiming that the caretaker government did not have the mandate for it.

The PM further said that he would take all political forces on board before proceeding with this trial, presumably to allay any apprehension of seeking revenge. He professed that as the PM, it was his duty to protect the constitution and to take action against anyone who violates it, in accordance with the rule of law. The PM’s announcement was warmly received by all major political parties in the National Assembly. They vowed to strengthen his hand in carrying out this endeavour.

Pursuing a high treason case against Musharraf will not be a walk in the park. If the treason charge is not confined to the November 3, 2007 imposition of emergency (some think it cannot be so confined), and the 1999 military coup is also brought within the purview of this case, the role of many important individuals, including the incumbent Chief Justice of Pakistan and many superior court judges who took oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order 1999 and endorsed the coup, the assumption of the office of Chief Executive of the country by Musharraf and giving him carte blanche to amend the constitution, will also come under scrutiny.

The anomaly that may arise in such a case would be whether such judges of the superior judiciary could, or should, hear the case. Moreover, Article 6(2) of the constitution also holds those who abetted in suspending the constitution guilty of high treason. This clause, if implemented in letter and spirit, could indict many politicians who supported Musharraf, some of whom later joined the PML-N — now the party in power. Senator Mushahid Hussain’s statement that the timing of this trial is inappropriate, although possibly for purely partisan political reasons (to protect colleagues of the erstwhile ‘King’s party’), may nevertheless carry weight. Pakistan is going through a severe energy crisis, the economy is on life support, and terrorism has us by the throat.

To open this potential Pandora’s box at this time may create uncertainty and apprehensions. A glimpse of this was witnessed when the Karachi Stock Exchange plummeted 650 points after the PM’s announcement. The military establishment, although it has preferred to maintain a low profile in political affairs in recent years, may be provoked by the trial of an ex-army chief. The civil-military relationship, critical for fighting the terrorists, may be affected by this development.

What remains to be seen is how serious the government is in pursuing this high treason trial. Many legal experts have hinted at the possibility that the government may just be playing to the gallery, as it has not shown serious intent so far. Attorney General Muneer Malik, while reading out a one-page statement before a three-member Supreme Court bench, stated the government’s position and the PM’s commitment to upholding the highest standards of justice and following due process.

Justice Khilji Arif Hussain in response to this statement pointed out its vagueness, implying it fell short of a clear, explicit mode of action. The bench gave three days to the Attorney General to provide step-by-step details of how the government plans to carry out the trial. If the government does decide to go ahead, it would be another first for Pakistan. No military coup-maker has ever been tried for high treason before. It should be clearer as the government proceeds whether it has thought through the implications of its course, the obstacles in its path, and the possible fallout. – DailyTimes