Published in The Nation newspaper on 01-Apr-2014
Matiullah Jan - Pervez Musharraf waited for about ten minutes in his bulletproof jeep outside the courtroom Monday morning before he was allowed entry inside the court premises. He was on time but the justices got late because of his security cavalcade and the subsequent traffic jam it had caused.
Once inside the courtroom Pervez Musharraf appeared to have developed a level of confidence in approaching the dock to face treason charges, which ostensibly have caused him more embarrassment than fear.
Pervez Musharraf delivered a speech that lasted for about 24 minutes, after charges were formally read out to him. The speech, however, did not equal the intellect and oratory of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He seemed to be confident that he did not have to win his life through arguments alone unlike the hanged premier who believed in the people’s power and the power of words.
Musharraf pleaded “not guilty” on all five counts of the treason charge. He wasn’t of course denying the guilt on fact but on law. In his view, the description of his actions as treason was highly misplaced and even a cause of heartburn.
“How can a former army chief who spent 44 years in serving the nation be dubbed as a traitor,” he repeatedly said in his speech. “These politicians in parliament are sagacious and pious whereas I am being charged for treason,” he taunted.
In his defence, Musharraf described fighting wars for the country, his days and nights spent along with the soldiers, filling of government’s treasury with dollars, appointing judges on merit and never indulging in any sort of corruption. All these points may seem misplaced when seen in the context of the treason case but they seemed to indicate his confidence in facing the daunting challenge of the treason case.
The indictment of a former military ruler on treason charges can be seen as a big achievement even if there is a long way to go. But the proceedings so far also seems to be a football game where players are quick to pass the ball on for others to score.
Constitutionally the government, prosecution and the courts seem to be part of the team, which prefers to dribble and pass on than shoot the ball in the net. The due process of law is already getting long over due. Out of 35 court hearings the accused General has appeared only twice and both times he went back with something to be pleased about.
The special court seems to have treated the “accused as blue eyed boy of court”. On his first appearance, the court deferred indictment in spite of its earlier orders. On Monday, when the General appeared for the second time, the special court refused to decide about travel restrictions on him but went out of the way to comment in detail on the matter which it declared was beyond its jurisdiction.
On one side, the court panel stated that travel restrictions were imposed by government and not by the court and hence the government has to take a decision. However, the court went on to make a case for lifting of travel restrictions by the government by reproducing arguments and case laws presented by lawyers of the accused General. And yet, the court says that it is not a constitutional court like the high court but only a statutory court, which can only act under a statute.
No wonder the ball is back in the court of the federal government, which had long been unnecessarily creating an impression that everything rested with the court. And even now if it has to allow Musharraf to leave the country, the extraordinary comments of special court judges favouring lifting of restrictions will become a reason for public consumption. And the special court, too, will be able to clarify that actually it did not decide the matter.
Similarly, the prosecution too seems to have lost a moral ground to proceed against a dictator. From the high ground of describing the November 03 action of General Musharraf as treason, the prosecutor on Monday diluted the charge into “constitution-breaking” mantra.
From what Akram Shiekh argued it seemed as if treason and subverting the constitution were two different things and breaking a constitution did not amount to treason. Even though the punishment under the law being followed is death or life sentence the dilution of intensity of the crime by prosecution will certainly strengthen the case of Musharraf whose previous lawyers have already argued that November 03 actions might be unconstitutional but not treasonous.
After Monday’s decision, the government’s resolve to try Musharraf on treason charges will be tested. The government can no more claim to be dependent on court process. If it thinks that Musharraf has committed a serious crime then it has to act on its own and arrest him and defend restrictions on his travel. It has long been arresting and putting in jail common people under maintenance of public order and for violation of section 144. Is the crime of high treason not serious enough to prompt an action like this? If it is afraid of being accused of victimization or personal revenge then wouldn’t inaction to dispel the impression also be remembered as a personal bias.
It seems that no institution, including the government and judiciary, is taking full responsibility of logically concluding a criminal trial of a former General. The trial has obviously begun but it seems that no body will be willing to take the responsibility if it fails to conclude logically and as per law.
In these circumstances, it is more of democracy on trial than a dictator and only one will survive. So far it seems that the dictator is down but not out.
Published in The Nation newspaper on 01-Apr-2014