x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Musharraf trial does not reflect well on anybody

The trial for treason of former Pakistan dictator Pervez Musharraf is reflecting badly on everybody involved.

That General Pervez Musharraf may have violated the constitution repeatedly when he was president of Pakistan is regarded by many observers as accepted fact. Whether he is culpable of treason, however, is for the courts to decide. What we do know for sure is that his trial has prompted the playing out of a peculiar farce. One can only wonder how it will conclude.

The case filed against the former dictator does not relate to the 1999 coup that brought him into power, but to his imposing of a state of emergency in 2007, a move intended to oust Iftikhar Chaudhry, the then chief justice of Pakistan.

Why was his first violation of the constitution exempted from prosecution?

The answer lies in the fact that it had been ratified by the Supreme Court and by a bench of the Baluchistan High Court, then presided over by Mr Chaudhry.

In fact, Mr Chaudhry remained a beneficiary of Gen Musharraf’s through his first eight years of rule.

He was elevated to the Supreme Court by Gen Musharraf and later appointed chief justice by him. As the chief justice, he ratified the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance that was intended to permit Benazir Bhutto to return, but to exclude the Sharif brethren. They fell out for some reason that has not been explained, Gen Musharraf asked Mr Chaudhry to resign in 2007.

Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, stated after his election last year that his government had no intention of pursuing any possible case of treason against Gen Musharraf, and that it was up to the courts to decide. The vindictive former chief justice might have liked to wreak vengeance on Gen Musharraf, but he was on his way out. What is more, Mr Chaudhry was fully aware of the fact that this “selective” trial was likely to open a Pandora’s Box, in which he might also be found culpable.

For reasons best known to Mr Sharif, he changed his mind and had a reference filed in the courts some months later. Not just that, a special prosecutor was hired to pursue the case.

Almost all senior military officers who were protégés of Gen Musharraf have retired and, despite his efforts to drag the institution of the army into the case filed against him, it is very doubtful if he has much sympathy or support among the rank and file now.

The defence secretary, a former three-star officer, has also stated that this case is of no concern to the military.

Nevertheless, he is a former army chief, and there is likely to be some concern as to whether he is a victim of vengeance, rather than of justice.

When the government decided to charge Gen Musharraf, the speculation was that this was intended to put the military “in its place” politically. Considering that this government was able to pick its own next army chief, that should have been an unnecessary step. But no other reason came to mind for the sudden appetite to put the general through the courts.

On January 1, Gen Musharraf was due to appear in court. Instead, he was rushed to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC). The information provided was that he had suffered chest pains on his way to the court and had to be diverted.

However, the media in Pakistan was quick to point out that the route to the AFIC and the courts are in diametrically opposite directions and, in addition, security cover provided for Gen Musharraf’s move had been deployed on both routes well before he even left home. This deployment could only have been ordered by the Ministry of Interior.

Ever since, there has been considerable speculation as to whether Gen Musharraf’s sudden heart problem is an excuse to “bail him out” of his difficulties, since his disclosures might embarrass individuals whom the government wishes to protect.

If so, could this have been at the behest of the army? This is possible but highly unlikely, because Maj Gen Azhar Kiyani, a former Commandant of the AFIC, who was probably consulted on Gen Musharraf’s condition since he went public on January 2 to state that the former president’s condition was not serious. It is unlikely that he would have made such a public statement if the army had been behind this possible exit plan for Gen Musharraf.

Then there are the Saudis, who have a long history of “rescuing” troubled Pakistani politicians. After a six-year absence from the country, a high level visit by a Saudi foreign minister took place when Gen Musharraf was in hospital.

The fact that security cover was deployed on both routes before Gen Musharraf left home is also significant. However, it is clear that the government was at least complicit with this farce, if not the motivating force behind it. The only question that remains is: why?

If the Saudis are not behind this last-minute rescue attempt, the best possible explanation is that the government realised the possible headache that this trial might cause and decided to reverse its decision for a second time.

If this is true, it does not reflect well on Pakistan’s elected leaders.

Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer