Powerful deterrence

Powerful deterrence
The conviction of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, ex-COAS, for High Treason, by a Special Court set up by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, is an unprecedented and extraordinary act with far reaching consequences for the continuing struggle for supremacy between military dictatorship and constitutional democracy in Pakistan.

The 2:1 judgment awarding Gen (retd) Musharraf the death sentence for his action on November 3, 2007, suspending the constitution, slapping a State of Emergency in Pakistan, dismissing all the judges of the superior courts and compelling hand-picked ones to swear a new oath of office, is unfortunately marred by the remarks of J Waqas Seth (with which the other two judges disagreed) that, in the event of his death outside Pakistan, General (retd) Musharraf’s corpse be “dragged to D Chowk in Islamabad”, and hung there for three days. This has given grist to the mills of the Miltablishment and detracted from the essential integrity of the judgment. It’s no wonder then that the judgment is being blasted for being “unfair”, “hasty” and “politically motivated” and critics have seized on the D Chowk remark to call it “barbaric” and “mad”. A petition before the Supreme Judicial Council alleging J Waqas Seth to be “unhinged” is on the cards.

The DGISPR claims the military is in “pain and anguish”. He has declared the judgment to be against the norms of humanitarianism, religion and culture. He warns that the “enemy” within and without will not be allowed to sow divisions in state and society. The COAS, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, also wasted no time going to the SSG headquarters, Gen (retd) Musharraf’s alma mater, to raise a clenched fist, signaling resolve to resist the judgment. On cue, the usual suspects in the media and cabinet have started issuing dire warnings of how any “clash of institutions” (meaning “any challenge to the Miltablishment) is going to harm the “national interest”.

The PTI government, naturally, remains on the “same page”. It appointed Gen (retd) Musharraf’s lawyers, Farogh Naseem and Anwar Mansoor Khan, as the Federal Law Minister and Attorney General of Pakistan respectively. Both gentlemen desperately tried to derail or delay the proceedings in the case via various tactics — changing prosecution teams midstream, demanding the inclusion of “aiders and abettors”, submitting lists of several hundred witnesses for examination, etc., and applying to various High Courts to stall the Special Court. Imran Khan, the prime minister, has also, conveniently, repudiated his countless statements when in opposition demanding that Gen (retd) Musharraf be tried for High Treason.

Gen (retd) Musharraf’s accountability started on July 22, 2009 – ten years ago – when a full bench of the Supreme Court ordered him to appear and defend his actions. Musharraf fled Pakistan, only returning four years later in March 2013 to “contest” the general elections. But in June, the newly elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, asked the SC to set up a Special Tribunal to try Musharraf for High Treason. However, in April, 2014, COAS Gen Raheel Sharif signaled his resolve to “preserve the dignity and institutional pride” of the army (a view reiterated by the DGISPR in the last two days). The prosecution completed its arguments in 45 days but the defense adopted various delaying tactics and it’s no secret that Gen Raheel Sharif pressured Nawaz Sharif to facilitate Gen (retd) Musharraf’s exit from Pakistan in 2016 for medical reasons. However, when he failed to return as promised, he was declared an “absconder”. Three years later, in April 2019, after interminable delays and Gen (retd) Musharraf’s continued refusal to return or respond via Video Conference, CJP Asif Saeed Khosa ordered the trial to continue “in absentia”. The PTI government resorted to various delaying tactics, including nudging petitioners to approach the IHC and LHC to challenge the Special Court’s jurisdiction. But, in line with the SC’s orders, the Special Court rejected such pleas and announced its verdict on Dec 17, 2019.

No one expects Gen (retd) Musharraf to return to Pakistan or this “same page” PTI government to seek his extradition. Indeed, the law will likely be bent to enable the absconder to lodge a robust appeal in absentia in the SC. Indeed, if the Special Court judgment is a political miracle, it would be the Mother of All Miracles if the SC were to uphold it in its entirety, given the unfettered power and reach of the Miltablishment. Will the new CJP, J Gulzar Ahmed, pick up the gauntlet or will he consign the case to the same freezer like the ISI Election Rigging Case of 1990?

Notwithstanding the misplaced D-Chawk remark, the Special Court’s brave judgment is destined to become a landmark in the power struggle between the Miltablishment and civil society institutions. Despite countervailing pressure from three army chiefs to drop or freeze the case, the judiciary, media, PMLN and PPP have trudged on wearily to make sure that Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf does not have a moment of mental peace even in exile. A powerful deterrence has been lodged against any wannabe coup-maker of the future.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.