Whatever may be the fate of Pervez Musharraf after the verdict in the treason case, one thing is clear: the wannabe Bonapartists and potential coup makers in the military have sternly been called out as never before. The value of the verdict lies not in actual execution of a coup maker. It is widely believed that he will not be executed. Perhaps Musharraf should not be executed, not only because the death penalty is abhorrent but also because executing Musharraf will be used by his henchmen to turn him into a martyr. The badge of traitor hanging around his neck is worse than execution and a warning shot for everyone for all times to come.
The treason verdict nonetheless helped reveal a couple of things.
First, remarks by Chief Justice Waqar Seth decreeing not only death but also ordering that in case Musharraf died a natural death, his corpse be dragged to the centre of the federal capital and hung in public for three days. It will be naive to think that Justice Seth did not know the implications of his remarks. He must have known fully well that dragging the corpse and hanging it in public is not provided in the law for any crime. He must have also known that it not likely to be implemented. After all it was a minority view, only one out of three judges had held it.
So why did Chief Justice Waqar Seth he say this?
Judge Waqar’s remarks are a reflection of the deep resentment in the people against dictators and a yearning to punish Bonapartists and putsch makers. Let there be no doubt or mistake about it. The strong language should not detract from the value of the verdict itself. This is not the first time that novel punishment has been prescribed for coup makers.
In December 2003, a private member bill was moved in the Senate on punishing dictators proposing unique punishments for treason. It sought to divest the traitors of all official titles, honours and awards that may have been conferred on them by the state. Their names will be recorded in all state documents, records and text books and their names invariably pre-fixed with title ‘Traitor,’ it said.
The bill proposed that if it is not possible to immediately punish the traitor(s) because of their holding the state’s coercive apparatus, the punishment shall not abate but be awarded as soon as the coercive apparatus either falls or is snatched from their hands.
If for some reason the punishment for high treason cannot be given in the lifetime of the traitor such punishment may be given after death. Death alone shall not be a mitigating circumstance, it said.
The bill also proposed the establishment of a “National Register of Shame and Horror” in which the names of all such person(s) determined to be guilty of high treason and their collaborators shall be recorded in black. The National Register of Shame shall be kept on display in the Parliament and all institutions of the state. On every Independence Day and on March 23 each year, when civil and military awards are announced, the names in the National Register of Shame and Horror shall also be caused to be published with a special public denunciation of those included in it.
The mover of the bill may have known that it was not easy to get it passed but he had made a point. Likewise, Judge Waqar Seth seems to have made a strong point through his remarks about dragging the corpse of dictator. It should come as no surprise.
Second, the strong reaction to the verdict by the army is a matter of concern.
The military has maintained that an officer became a civilian on retirement. Musharraf is not only a retired military officer but also heads a political party. Why should the army project the verdict against Musharraf as a verdict against the institution? And the so called morale of troops? Not long ago, an ex general was sentenced to long prison term and a retired brigadier to death. If these convictions did not demoralize the troops, why would conviction for treason demoralize troops?
The military went far too far to protect Musharraf. On the day Musharraf was to appear before the court for indictment, his car was diverted to an army hospital in Rawalpindi instead of the court even as Musharraf’s lawyers were waiting for him in the court. Once ensconced inside a military compound, no law enforcement agency dared enter there. The courts, the parliament and all civilian law enforcement agencies appeared helpless.
A campaign was started not only against Chief Justice Waqar Seth but against the entire judiciary. Former Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Khosa also alluded to it in his farewell address. Wall posters appeared mysteriously in different cities against the judiciary and in support of Musharraf. When questioned, those pasting posters did not know why they were doing it. Within hours of the detailed judgment an angry media outfit of the army said that the verdict had proved its reservations, whatever it mean.
“The Pakistan Army is not just an institution, it is a family. We know how to defend the country and how to defend the honour and dignity of our institution,” the military spokesperson said. The month of December has deeply poignant memories for the people and particularly for the army. It did not occur that the month of December was not the most appropriate period for such bravado.
Prime Minister Imran Khan took yet another U-turn from his stated position on subversion of the Constitution. Far from appreciating the verdict, Khan described it as an attempt to create “anarchy and unrest in the country” as federal ministers talked of filing a reference against Justice Waqar Seth. A campaign on social media was started, blasting the verdict as politically motivated by a “mad” judge. The army chief went to the SSG headquarters in a show of solidarity with commando Musharraf.
There are dangerous implications of the assertion that conviction of an errant general has hurt the army. It must be made clear that an errant general is not the same as the army. Assertions like ‘defending the dignity of the institution’ while referring to Musharraf treason verdict are patently wrong, self-serving and must be rejected.
The writer is a former senator