Pakistan's defining moment
Notwithstanding probable efforts of the military in dissolving former President Musharraf’s death sentence, the stern verdict is a strong precedent for democracy
The death sentence, handed down to the former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf by the three-member special tribunal, headed by the Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth in a high treason case is a landmark verdict as it signifies a headlong confrontation with the military establishment. For the first time, a civilian court has sentenced a general from Pakistan's domineering military in the 72 years of the troubled State.
The military establishment is on the back foot, having expressed its shock over the decision arguing that legal formalities were not adhered to in this case. Military biggies make no bones of their agony and humiliation over the death sentence, even though the likelihood of implementation of capital punishment is low, given the reality of army-dominated parliamentary order.
The prompt statement by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres opposing the capital punishment in keeping with the UN tradition also favours Pakistan's last dictator and martial law administrator is a shot in the arm of military establishment and Musharraf. The ex-boss, under death row, indirectly manipulated the trial. There were more than 100 hearings — an extremely rare thing — and other tactics like delaying the trial like grounds of "illness" and self-exile in Dubai. All this went against him.
The 2:1 verdict is against the suspension of the Constitution of Pakistan, slapping a State of Emergency dismissing all judges of the superior courts and compelling hand-picked ones to swear a new oath of office on November 3, 2007. It takes the power struggle between the military establishment and civil society institutions to the forefront. Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth did not bow down to countervailing pressure from three army chiefs to drop or freeze the case. He acted on behalf of the conscience of the judiciary of Pakistan. Not less than 61 judges of the superior judiciary, including the chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry and chief justices of three provinces dysfunctional to help the self-styled chief executive to lord over Pakistan under the new dispensation. The dictator, bumptious alike his predecessors were forced to resign due to lawyers' stir as its aftermath.
The three-judge tribunal accused Musharraf of violation of Article 6 of Pak Constitution that reads: "Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or hold in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution by use of force or show force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason" The punishment for high treason under Pakistani law is death which is why the military establishment had to beat strategic retreat literally but can lace up its boots to hit back any time.
"A powerful deterrence has been lodged against any wannabe coup-maker of the future," quipped the acid tone and undaunted editor of 'The Friday Times', Najam Sethi. The text of the judgment — a segment of it — reads: "The corps commanders committee in addition to all other uniformed officers who were guarding him each and every time with boots on are equally and fully-involved in the acts and deeds of the accused person. The ratio decidendi [rule of law on which a judicial decision is based] of the [2016 Supreme Court] judgement is that the aiders and abettors can't be inducted by the court in a complaint filed by the federal government, meaning thereby the federal government/complainant is not absolved of not investigating these officers and filing a complaint against them, which they can do at any time."
This has somewhat unnerved the military establishment as its authority is challenged in six-and-a-half decades. The army spokesman Major Gen. Asif Ghafoor at the general headquarters in Rawalpindi tweeted with a "lot of pain and anguish (that) a man who "had served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the country can surely never be a traitor."
In contrast, to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf that keeps the GHQ in Rawalpindi in good humour, Pakistan Muslim League and Pakistan Peoples Party that had an unending trouble with Musharraf in his days trudge on "wearily to make sure" that the ambitious ex-dictator "does not have a moment of mental peace even in exile", Sethi wrote. Arguably, historic is the verdict, put in bold letters, If, for argument's sake, military high command, including corps commanders is presumed not to have been involved, why did it fail to defend and protect the Constitution by not retraining a man in uniform? The fact remains — and unfortunately so — the cronies of the accused are left in the lurch.
The verdict generated a spontaneous reaction from all and sundry. For the civil society in Pakistan which is divided on capital punishment but almost unanimous on life imprisonment, the verdict is a triumph of the principle of institutionalised accountability and democracy, and a defining moment in people's yearning for an unfettered parliamentary democracy.
Views expressed are strictly personal