The Sharif government has finally complied with Supreme Court directives to initiate an Article 6 Treason Case against General (retd) Pervez Musharraf for promulgating a Provisional Constitutional Order Emergency on November 3, 2007, that suspended the constitution and removed the Chief Justice of Pakistan and several of his colleagues. At the government’s request, the SC has nominated a special court of three high court judges for the trial. Is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif delivering his pledge to establish civilian supremacy over the military? Or is this planned as another charade like the four cases of murder and criminality pending in the courts against General Musharraf in which he has been bailed out?
It is significant that the government has acted on the eve of the retirement of two key players who had opposing vested interests in the case. The first is Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, CJP, who was General Musharraf’s victim in 2007. He had a personal vested interest in adjudging the necessity of a treason trial and punishing his tormentor. The second is General Ashfaq Kayani, COAS, who was General Musharraf’s VCOAS in November 2007 and became the biggest beneficiary of the PCO after his boss became President. He had a personal vested interest in burying the issue. Both will no longer have any influence on the case. Does this imply that the government’s motives are entirely noble and the case will be conducted in an impartial, free and transparent environment? No.
The Attorney General claims the FIA has collected strong evidence against General Musharraf. But a senior member of the FIA team has admitted to the press “no concrete evidence has yet been collected to implicate Gen Musharraf”. The AG has also clarified that the accused can apply for bail from the special court even though this is an Article 6 Treason case. This means the government will not vigourously and effectively oppose bail. The FIA also admits that it will require cooperation from GHQ to make its case. But such cooperation has not been forthcoming in the past, whether in the case of the missing persons of Balochistan, or in the case of the various investigation commissions into the murder of Benazir Bhutto, or into several corruption cases involving serving and retired senior officers of the Pakistan Army. This means that the military will doggedly protect its own, come hell or high water.
The case has also got some embarrassing holes in it. The presiding judge, Justice Faisal Arab, refused to take oath under the 2007 PCO, while Justice Yawar Ali is a brother-in-law of Justice (retd) Khalilur Rehman Ramday, who was also axed and later became the CJP’s confidante and ally in all his trials and tribulations. Their appointment will cast a shadow over the trial.
Significantly, the prosecution will have an impossible task proving that General Musharraf alone acted treasonably even though the PCO Emergency explicitly names the top civil-military officers of the time, including the office of the Vice-Chief of Army Staff (then occupied by General Kayani) and the top commanders of the Pakistan Army, as concurring in the decision and helping to implement it. Indeed, it is unprecedented for any Article 6 Treason Trial in history to nominate only one accused rather than the coterie that cooked up the conspiracy, took the final decision and then implemented it. And, if reports are true that the architect of both PCOs of 1999 and 2007, Sharifuddin Peerzada may be General Musharrf’s counsel in the case, we may expect him to run rings around the prosecution.
There are overriding considerations too for Nawaz Sharif. He owes the Saudis for extracting clemency for him from General Musharraf in 2000 when he was on death row, and then showering him with their blessings for a decade in exile. The Saudis, in turn, owe General Musharraf for heeding their request to spare Mr Sharif’s life and allow him to return to Pakistan in 2007 and contest elections. Now it is time to square the quid pro quos all round.
Mr Sharif is also in no position to bring the powerful military to heel. He would rather tackle the groaning economy and face the existential threat of Taliban terrorism with the military’s help instead of alienating the commanders and risking political destabilization by putting their leaders on trial. The lessons of Turkey are not lost on him: it will take several efficient and popular civilian stints in power to push the military out of politics.
General Musharraf’s trial is scheduled to open after the current CJP and COAS have departed. Their replacements are bound to concur with the government that a full-fledged charade is in order for the usual “national security interests” of the state. Under the circumstances, General Musharraf is likely to be bailed out also in the fifth case against him and go on to live in luxurious exile.