by Mehrooj Rai 29 December 2019
A special court in Islamabad sentenced former military dictator, Pervez Musharaf to death for subverting the constitution and imposing emergency in 2007. In a 2-1 split verdict, Musharaf has been pronounced guilty of the violation of Article 6 of Pakistan’s constitution. For the first time in the history of Pakistan an army chief has been declared guilty of high treason and handed a death sentence.
Article 6 of the Constitution says, “Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance, the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.”
Musharaf once said, “The Constitution is a piece of paper to be thrown into a dustbin.” Ironically, he has been sentenced to death for abrogating the very Constitution. This landmark verdict will go down in history as one of the boldest and bravest decisions. Besides, one can hope that it becomes instrumental in strengthening the edifice of democracy and paves way for the supremacy of civilian authority.
The treason case against Musharaf was filed on 12th December 2013 by the PML-N government. In March 2014, Musharaf was indicted by a three-member special court and the prosecution completed its case on 18th September 2014.
In March 2016, Musharaf left the country for four to six weeks on medical grounds. General Raheel Sharif was the one who came to Musharaf’s aid and helped him escape. Despite repeated summons to return and record his statement, Musharaf failed to appear before the court citing health reasons. The court declared him an absconder on 11 May 2016.
At last, the Supreme Court directed the special court to proceed against Musharaf even in his absence in April, 2019.
Imran Khan had been a vocal proponent of Musharaf to be charged under Article 6 of the Constitution. Forgetting all the claims made regarding Musharaf in the past, the PTI government was at the forefront in trying to delay the verdict through different tactics and rescue the former dictator.
On 23rd October, the federal government sacked the entire prosecution team, formed by the previous PML-N government, at a time when the treason trial against Musharaf was reaching its conclusion.
On 25th November 2019, the government submitted a petition in the Islamabad High Court to stop the special court from announcing its verdict and asked for a new trial under its new prosecution team.
However, the special court finally issued the verdict in a high treason case against Musharaf on 17th December 2019, ending the six-year long trial.
A day after the detailed judgment was issued by the Supreme Court regarding General Bajwa’s extension of the tenure, the conviction of a military dictator came as another major legal blow to the military establishment.
The unprecedented court ruling will have far-reaching implications as it has already triggered apprehensions in political and legal circles. The shockwaves of the last few weeks have brought military and judiciary in a confrontation mode as they have posedaserious challenge to monopoly of ‘invisible forces’ over power and political matters.
The military leadership reacted strongly in response to the verdict of Musharaf’s conviction and came out robustly in support of its former chief saying that Musharaf “can surely be never a traitor.”
The detailed judgment issued by the special court on 19th December gave an opportunity to the detractors and objectors to further question and discredit the verdict.
In the detailed judgment, the court “directed the law enforcement agencies to apprehend the fugitive/convict to ensure that the punishment is inflicted as per law, and if found dead, his corpse be dragged to the D-Chowk, Islamabad, and be hanged for 3 days.”
The controversial para caused widespread outrage as it’s reminiscent of medieval laws. This particular para is undoubtedly objectionable and should not have been part of the verdict. But it should not be brandished in an attempt to overshadow the essential integrity of the entire verdict because it is an individual’s opinion and not the operational part of the verdict.
DGISP, Gen Asif Ghafoor deemed the judgment to be against the norms of humanity and religion. He said the “decision given by special court has been received with lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of Pakistan Armed Forces.” He further added the country is currently facing threats from both internal and external sources and that the Pakistan Army knows how to defend its honor and dignity.
Following the meeting between General Bajwa and Prime Minister Imran Khan, the government announced it would be filing a reference against Justice Seth for his observations at the Supreme Judicial Council. The law minister, Farogh Naseem added that Justice Seth was ‘unfit’.
The institution should not take on responsibility for an individual as Musharaf’s conviction is not indictment of armed forces. The case of an individual, the one who undermined the constitution, should not be made an institutional issue.
On December 19, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council announced that it would observe a province-wide strike over the ISPR chief’s statement criticizing the Musharaf verdict.
The KP Bar Council said, “[The military statement] clearly gives the impression that in Pakistan all the institutions are subservient to follow the dictation of the armed forces and its related institutions and there is no respect for any other forum including the judiciary, the parliament and other state institutions.”
Many will agree that the verdict will not be implemented or the sentence will never be carried out considering the institution’s unbridled power and overreach. But still, the significance of the judgment is profound and undeniable as it holds a symbolic value, especially for a country that has spent decades under military rule. For the first time, a military chief has been tried for treason and has also been convicted.
The Imran Khan government, though always portraying itself as a champion of justice and accountability, has decided to defend Musharaf in appealing the sentence passed by the court.
The audacious judgment will hold a strong message for all tin pot dictators, adventurers and coup-makers. Because it is not about actually hanging Musharaf, it is about the symbolism that the judgment carries. It may serve as a major deterrent to potential adventurism in the future.
Perhaps it is time to follow Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s words finally, “Do not forget that the armed forces are the servants of the people. You do not make national policy; it is we, the civilians, who decide these issues and it is your duty to carry out these tasks with which you are entrusted.”