Despite its controversial, indeed farcical, nature, the trial of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution is proceeding according to the general script conceived by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. From Day-One, Mr Sharif has insisted that “the law must take its course”. By that he means that the Supreme Court (SC) ordered the government to try General Musharraf for treason and stop him from fleeing the country and his government has done exactly that, no more, no less. As evidence, he cites the fact that the SC selected the three judges for the Special Tribunal trying General Musharraf and, by virtue of another order, retains exclusive jurisdiction over retaining or removing his name from the Exit Control List for whatever reason.
We may rightly dispute the judgment of the SC to try General Musharraf only for his sins of commission in October 2007 rather than also for those in October 1999. In fact, we may doubly insist that it is patently unjust to try only General Musharraf for treason when a host of others, including generals, judges, politicians and bureaucrats actively participated in his decision of October 2007. But Mr Sharif can rightly argue that the buck stops at the SC and his government is merely obeying its orders, no more, no less.
The military doesn’t like this one bit. Indeed, it has been so outraged at the thought of an ex-Chief being tried for treason by the civilians that it has acted to thwart the proceedings every step of the way, especially since the Special Court summoned General Musharraf to face indictment a couple of months ago. The histrionics of the defence lawyers are also outrageous and unprecedented. By contrast, the Special Court’s patience and forbearance and the government’s cool headedness in the face of serious challenge and provocation are praiseworthy.
But the moving finger writes and having written moves on. The author of the last act in this farce is none other than the mighty state of Saudi Arabia that has recently gifted $1.5b to Mr Sharif. In part exchange, General Musharraf is fated to spend many years in comfortable exile rather than languish in a dirty prison in Pakistan, much the same fate that the Saudis decreed for Mr Sharif in 2000 when the boot was on the other foot. “Operation Fairplay” is now expected to shift from the makeshift premises of the Special Court and powerful Prime Minister’s Office to the exalted halls of justice in the Supreme Court which will be petitioned to “amend/modify” an earlier order barring General Musharraf from leaving the country. The Special Court has passed the buck to the government and the government has passed it to the SC whence the matter originated. Since the personally vindictive Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry is not cracking the whip at the SC any longer, we may expect Operation Fairplay to proceed, albeit with further twists, before the SC lets General Musharraf off the hook on the basis of definite legal undertakings while Mr Sharif extracts definite political assurances from him. The irony is that, in either case, General Musharraf may have to atone for October 1999 instead of walking to the gallows for October 2007.
The Musharraf “affair” has served to establish the important precedent that wannabe coup-makers must consider the personal and institutional consequences of their actions when the civilians inevitably return to power. This is a practical deterrence of sorts that is over and above the theoretical provisions of the constitutional. On the other hand, it is precisely such considerations that might compel unprecedented violence and bloodshed if a coup-making situation were ever to arise again for one reason or another. In the same way, the argument for putting an end to the treatment of the military as a sacred cow cannot be contested. But demanding that the military submit to quick and unfettered accountability after sixty-five years of lording it over the country is a sign of foolishness, not courage.
To be fair to Mr Sharif, if the military had not tried to buck the script for General Musharraf’s exile, the Musharraf affair would never have gone on for so long and with such farcical turns. A swift indictment would have paved the way for bail and freedom. But the drama at the AFIC – concocted medical and security reports, ICU forays, etc — has rebounded on the military because the civilians have not tried to barge their way into the hospital to snatch a wanted man or concede their constitutional position to bring him to court. The military must also be grateful to the prime minister and the courts for not dragging the institution into the mud.
In the end, it seems as if General Musharraf has personally seen the error of his military tacticians and strategists on the indictment issue and decided to get on with the script. That has paved the way for the last step in the SC.