Saturday, March 26, 2016
Pakistan’s former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf has left for Dubai on Friday morning (March 18) to ostensibly seek medical treatment for a “decade-old illness”, after the interior ministry removed his name from the Exit Control List (ECL). Musharraf’s departure all but brings to an end the saga of his treason trial after nearly three years. On Wednesday (March 16), the Supreme Court (SC), ordered the removal of Musharraf’s name from the ECL, but this did not preclude the government from reinstating restrictions on the movement of the former president. However, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan addressed a press conference and informed that his ministry would follow through with the court’s order after receiving assurances from Musharraf’s lawyers that he would eventually return to Pakistan after seeking his required treatment to face his charges. Many observers, however, view this assurance with skepticism and the consensus view is that the treason trial has whimpered to a close.
Back in 2013, Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan after a period of self-imposed exile in order to participate and lead his nascent political party in the then-upcoming elections. However, he was disqualified from standing in the elections; moreover, in an unprecedented move in the country’s history, the former dictator found himself facing arrest, after a warrant was issued by the Islamabad High Court in April 2013, over charges of suspending the constitution, dismissing judges and placing them under house arrest, and imposing an emergency. In addition to these charges, he was also charged with the failure to provide adequate security to former Prime Minister (PM) Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007. After winning the May elections, a confident PML-N’s federal government took the extraordinary step of bringing fiver charges of high treason against the former dictator in a special court. Predictions and assertions were made in December 2013 that the trial would be speedily concluded. There was an unquestionable amount of hype around the treason trial, as it was being touted as a historic occurrence that would reshape the contours of democracy, redefine the civil-military relationship, and set a positive precedent that would inhibit any future imposition of martial law.
But putting a former dictator and chief of the country’s most powerful institution on trial for treason was never going to pan out the way the government desired. The investigation and trial of Pervez Musharraf for imposing the 2007 Emergency was always underlined by perceptions that this was a matter of personal vendetta for PM Nawaz Sharif, whose government was overthrown in 1999 by the then Chief Of Army Staff. As a result of this desire of the Sharifs to get back at the man who forced them into exile, the proceedings exclusively targeted Musharraf, while no case was built against any of his alleged co-conspirators. The choice of focusing on the 2007 emergency was also a curious one when the much graver original sin of the 1999 coup d’état made for a more logical case of treason. The 1999 coup, like all previous coups, was ratified by the SC and hence there exists a dire need to rectify this harmful precedent. Principles of justice and democracy demanded that an example be set so that in the future overthrowing an elected government and abrogating the constitution is not hailed as ‘saving the country’ but treated like the treasonous act it is. But to avoid risking drudging up its own past sins, the Nawaz government focused on the 2007 case due to its perceived straightforwardness, thereby compromising the integrity of the proceedings. It soon became clear however that the case was poorly and hastily prepared and that Musharraf still enjoyed the support of his former institution.
The trial played out farcically, as the former president easily avoided appearing in court by pleading ill health while the government and prosecutors manifestly lost their will to see the case through when faced with the possibility of drawing the military’s ire.
The entire saga reeks of a missed opportunity. Had the government’s prosecution covered all of its bases, perhaps we could have witnessed a historic trial that would have done the unthinkable: holding someone accountable in this country. The only kinds of accountability drives we witness in Pakistan are politically motivated as they are lopsided and transparently designed to fulfill vendettas against specific individuals and political parties. Whether it is the case against Musharraf or the various campaigns undertaken by the National Accountability Bureau, what is missing from all of the above is a rational, transparent and objective methodology that respects principles of justice.
Courtesy: Daily Times