Amidst tight security, Pervez Musharraf arrived from the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology to appear before a special court and just like that, became the first ex-Chief of Army Staff to be tried in a treason case. Ever mindful of the power of a little drama in politics, he saluted the judges and maintained his solemn-faced reverence for the panel while being read the formal charges against him. Under Article 6 of the Constitution, he faces high treason for imposing a state of emergency on the 3rdof November 2007 while suspending the Constitution for over a month. If proven guilty, Musharraf faces life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Praetorianism; that excessive, abusive political influence by the armed forces, is nothing new in our country. In the short span of 67 years, civilian authority has been undermined by the khaki uniform thrice. But what’s new is that for the first time in our political and social history, a former military commander is being held accountable for his ill-devised decisions, for transgressing power; something the chaps in the armed forces are terribly accustomed to.

The ex-army chief himself claims that the ordeal is simply a ‘political vendetta’ against him. But it doesn’t take more than a brief look at the coup d’état of 1998 or the years between 2001 and 2008, to analyze the oft-brute power Musharraf exercised over civilians in a number of issues. Whether we consider the case of the hundreds of Pakistanis who went missing and were handed over to foreign powers for bounty, or the extra-judicial killing of Akbar Bugti, or the dismissal of judges and above all, the suspension of the constitution, Musharraf’s portfolio of violence spreads over a range of social and political offences that aggressively blocked out any kind of dissent against him. It was during his rule that the DHRP files showed 1,700 missing people from Baluchistan alone while at least 4,000 appeared to be in the hands of the Pakistani interior ministry.

Whether our generals fancy it or not, the truth of the matter is that Musharraf’s trial carries significance in more than one way, and for more than one incident. Whether or not he is charged in the end, it challenges the hegemony of a military that has rejected civilian accountability time and again and serves as a precedent for anyone else scheming to sabotage the constitution.