Long Arm of the Law
By Mehr F Husain
04 APR 2014
PAKISTAN has a long history of dictators.
In fact the years under martial law outnumber the democratic ones.
But no dictator has been held accountable and so for an ex- military man to be brought forth before the law and indicted for treason which carries death penalty was indeed a historic moment for a country who has struggled and is striving to allow democracy to flourish.
While Musharraf remains defiant and pleads not guilty to the treason charges against him, the trial may well morph into a political drama complete with a typical twist that tugs at the heart strings.
Since his return to Pakistan in 2013, the former Chief of Army Staff and ex- President Pervez Musharraf had been battling against various cases which include the death of the Baloch politician Akbar Bugti in 2006, the assassination of former PM Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and the death of a cleric in the Lal Masjid siege in 2007. So far he managed to get bail in every case. But now it appears that his ability to wriggle out of previous cases may have failed in this last one case filed against him — treason, which consists of five charges including the imposition of emergency rule and suspending the constitution.
The roots of the 2007 state of emergency lie in 1999 when current PM Nawaz Sharif was ousted in a bloodless coup by then COAS General Musharraf. What makes this case interesting is how despite the democratic developments which ironically took place under the Musharraf regime such as the growth of the media; it is the same democratic system that elected PM Sharif and holding Musharraf accountable for his actions.
In principle, the role of the judiciary, as an independent institution, is to keep the executive in check and the role of the state is to adhere to and uphold the constitution.
Here, we have the hero who campaigned and reinstated the sacked Chief Justice in the form of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Yet the PM himself is a victim of the General’s wrath and though it is not openly stated, some argue that the hounding of Musharraf is not just a matter of principle — it also reeks of revenge for the years lost by PM Sharif while in exile.
Both are in sticky situations.
While Musharraf battles to clear his name, his ailing mother lies in a hospital in another country.
Meanwhile PM Sharif battles against the pros and cons of this trial since the decision can define Pakistan’s future — historically, the State has been at the receiving end of the Military’s wrath but currently the State and military are on comparatively friendlier terms as they face a common foe, the TTP. So while the judiciary plays the role, it seems that the indictment may not be enough to satisfy the government enough as it has refused to remove Musharraf’s name from the Exit Control List thereby preventing him from flying out to see his mother, a decision that the Judiciary was quick to point, was made solely by the government.
This then leads one to wonder: is the law being used to hold a dictator accountable or is it being used as a legitimate form of muscle power for the sake of a personal whim? Either way, it is clear the PM will need to tread very carefully in a manner to make a decision which could be beneficial for the entire political system.
Musharraf’s return has been a massive lesson in politics for both the civilian government and the military. More than a decade on, despite the advancements in democracy and all the other issues the country is grappling with, the same two people dominate the political scene in opposite roles.
Has much changed then? Well, assumed personal vendetta aside, the fact that the government has taken the judicial route to pursue accountability has ensured that it is has not acted in the form of an unprincipled entity; and the indictment of an ex- General is a strong signal that no one has the authority to indulge in action against the constitution.
Call it a twist of fate or a repetitive cycle, fact of the matter is there is no denying that a breakthrough has taken place.
Mehr F Husain is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore While Musharraf remains defiant and pleads not guilty to the treason charges against him, the trial may morph into a political drama
Source: Mail Today