“He is a burden, which can neither be lifted nor thrown off,” said a political sage the other day when he was asked about the fate of Musharraf. He appeared to be quite right. Before his trial started, the state’s dilemma over how to deal with him was no less enigmatic than that of Hamlet’s, a ‘To be or not to be’ moment. The government, faced with internal and external threats to its security and multiple financial and economic difficulties, could ill afford the trial of a former army general whose ramifications were bound to create more problems for it rather than helping it out of its current crisis — the trial of Musharraf had never been its priority. It was entirely his own decision to return to Pakistan and clear himself of the charges against him. He had clearly no political base here and the political party he had formed had fewer members than a volleyball team. Yet the verve and confidence he displayed was surprising for all. In fact, luck appeared to be on his side since he staged his coup in 1999. He relied on the designs of fate more than his own volition.
One would recall that soon after his military coup he kept asking the people as to who had given him a push from behind to fall into the ‘arena’ of power, implying that power came to him as a gift of nature and not due to his own choice. However, being in power for over eight years, it was indeed difficult for him to part with it. The circumstances under which Musharraf was forced to divest himself of the highest civil and military offices should have made him understand that his heydays were over, and that his political career had finished forever. During self-imposed exile abroad he kept touring different parts of the world in a bid to refurbish his image as an indispensable leader of Pakistan. The western world, whose interests he had served loyally, received him warmly. Neither a statesman nor a political thinker, he was handsomely paid for his lectures and speeches. This naturally made him suffer from megalomania, which blinded him to the realities of present day Pakistan. His decision to return, contest elections and regain power with a heavy public mandate were all vain dreams for which he was prepared to take all risks, despite being warned by the army establishment and his supporters here. Since his return, and remaining in complete isolation from the people, he has been passing through a period of disillusionment, finally landing in the army hospital. What a fall from flexing his muscles and waving his fist to a malingering accused taking refuge in a hospital for fear of an impending trial!
Sometime ago, the government had two options: either to let him face the trial and meet his nemesis, or allow himself to be sent abroad for his medical treatment, which is now only possible with the permission of the court. The court, of late, has held that his state of health as reported in his medical certificate is not enough to warrant his exemption from appearance in court. Now he is left with no choice but to face the charges against him with the same courage and determination he displayed at the time of his return to Pakistan.
In the event of his facing trial, it is likely that the trial itself may prolong laboriously because the defence would be adamant in having a multitude of witnesses examined by the court — they would be anxious to show that aiding and abetting is an integral part of the charge under article six since the ‘proclamation of emergency’ explicitly mentions a number of persons in high places (both civil and military) with whose consultation and advice it was issued. This would naturally place many high ups in the witness box to testify or refute this fact and face gruelling cross-examination by the defence counsel. For several months in the past, the Supreme Court (SC) has been exhorting the federal government to proceed against Musharraf in the light of its judgment of July 31, 2009 whereby he was held to have subverted the constitution and was declared a usurper. If the federal government had not been pressed so hard by the SC for Musharraf’s prosecution, the government would not have proceeded against him because of the inherent difficulties and embarrassment implicit in his trial. It is pertinent to point out that, under section three of The High Treason (Punishment) Act, it is wholly the discretion of the federal government to initiate prosecution under Article six against the accused and nobody can compel the government to exercise or not to exercise this discretion. However, since a deadline had been given by the SC to complete investigations and submit a police challan in the court, the investigating agency, presumably without examining any of the top civil and military office holders named in the proclamation, concluded its investigation by booking Musharraf alone as accused to stand trial under Article six.
There is a general perception that the government was never serious about prosecuting Pervez Musharraf for high treason because it was likely to open a whole Pandora’s box by digging out the events of the past in which many unsavoury things happened. Since the 18th amendment had made the 17th amendment null and void, the military coup of 1999 has also become open to investigation and it no longer enjoys any protection. Moreover, as per section two of The High Treason Act of 1973, all those persons and their abettors responsible for subversion of the constitution since March 23, 1956 would have been (if alive) liable to be proceeded against under Article six. This would not only have interminably prolonged the time and scope of the trial but would have embarrassed the government and damaged the country’s reputation internationally. Therefore the government’s diffidence to initiate this trial was understandable.
The ominous possibility of the accused being whisked away to some foreign country during the course of the trial appears to be very remote and extremely dangerous in the existing circumstances. The only country that could pressurise the government to do so was Saudi Arabia whose foreign minister, during his recent visit, has denied any deal concerning Musharraf. Neither the US nor UK can exert sufficient pressure to let him off the hook at this stage. His going abroad at this stage on any pretext without permission of the court would not only be a slur on the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan but would also badly embarrass the democratic government of Nawaz Sharif, committed to the rule of law. Not only this, any ultra-legal step to save or exonerate Pervez Musharraf from facing this trial would not only drive a wedge into the civil-military relationship but would also make a travesty of our judicial system. Thus, in the prevailing circumstances, the only course open to Musharraf is to boldly face the trial for which his team of legal experts is fully equipped.
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