The rejection of nomination papers is a minor setback that former President Musharraf could take in his stride. It might not affect the prospects of his standing for elections since the scrutiny of papers at the three other constituencies, where he has also filed them, has not yet been completed and the outcome might not be the same. But still, he would be ruing the day he stepped on the country’s soil from self-exile; for he finds himself trapped in a badly tangled net of cases of crimes of serious nature. Probably, sitting away from Pakistan for nearly five years, he failed to visualise that a wind of change has been blowing in the people’s perception of, and attitude to, subverting the constitution that could put him in harm’s way. And the judges, particularly the higher judiciary, have been at pains to demonstrate that they would go by the law and constitution, without fear or favour. In this changed climate, the former dictator is facing charges of treason under article 6 of the constitution. A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry would hear the petition accusing him of treason tomorrow.

On the assumption that Musharraf is found guilty on any of these charges and awarded a sentence, it would be the first instance of its kind in Pakistan when a former dictator and Chief of the Army Staff at that, would have to face that humiliation. It is doubtful, though, that he would meet that fate; for all the supremacy that one hears and sees the political institutions exercising, there is the army’s hand underneath. The army, by any reckoning, remains the most powerful institution in the country and so it is acknowledged all around, by Pakistan watchers here and abroad. Its commitment to democracy under its present leadership is to be appreciated, and is within it's constitutional limits. But one must not lose sight of the fact that the commitment not to interfere in politics was born out of pragmatic considerations: the ignominy that the Musharraf regime and the earlier military dictatorships had incurred. But that latitude has its limits, which the humiliation of a former colleague might cross.

Here the only factor that could upset the calculation is the indomitable courage that the courts have been showing. But would it not be better if the Chief Justice were to excuse himself from hearing the case for obvious reasons? In this context, there prevails a most intriguing silence in the PML-N and PPP circles since Musharraf landed in Pakistan. The PML-N had vociferously been demanding his repatriation and trial and the PPP had accused him of masterminding Benazir’s assassination. Could this attitude be the result of a secret deal brokered by powerful friends abroad?