STRAIGHT TALK

General Musharraf, the former dictator, who was the undisputed ruler of Pakistan for over eight years and is the author of the book, ‘In the Line of Fire’, is today, in the line of fire himself, on trial in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. This historical trial of a retired General will begin on 24th of December, where he will face charges, which include five counts of treason.

Some months back, it was inconceivable that such a day would come in this land of the Pak and the Pure, when a retired General, who was once COAS of the army, would stand, hat in hand, in the very court that he had brazenly and unceremoniously dismissed in 2007, humiliating and man handing its Chief. Many still feel that a man, who once wore a uniform, will never be allowed to face humiliation in front of a civilian court.

By holding Musharraf’s trial, the Nawaz Sharif government has taken a risky plunge, as it is bound to take many twists and turns and open a Pandora’s Box as it proceeds, as in his Proclamation of Emergency Order of 2007, Musharraf had named different officers, both civilian and military, as his consultants for the abrogation of the Constitution.

The General’s supporters, who are still many, term the treason trial against the former dictator, as political victimization and have warned of serious consequences, if senior army officers are also drawn into the trial, which is bound to drag on for months and turn messy.

The General is also being accused of dragging Pakistan into the Afghan war. However, let us not forget the hard facts after the deadly 9/11 terrorist attack. At that time, the American President had called the General and given him a one line ultimatum, “Either you are with us or you are against us”.

Many are of the opinion that Pakistan should not have bowed down to that ultimatum and taken a stand, but in doing so, the message to the Americans would have been a plain and simple, that “we were not with you”, which the Americans would have taken as “we are against you” and therefore their enemy.

Such a negative stand would have created a very dangerous and disastrous situation for Pakistan, which we are witnessing in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. The Americans would have made their threat, that, “they would bomb us back into the stone age”, becoming a reality. And this is exactly what they have done to those countries who have tried to stand up to America and challenged its demands.

Seeing a “no win situation”, the General had been forced to take a pragmatic and safe stand, by accepting the American demands and promising them Pakistan’s full support in its war against terror. And in doing so, Pakistan immediately became the darling of the West and was able to get massive aid for the country.

However, having succeeded in doing so, the General is definitely guilty of allowing this massive aid to be misused and wasted. He had every opportunity to change the course of this unfortunate country and set it on the right track, by implementing his 7-point agenda. But by failing to do so, he destroyed the future of our youth, which is as big a crime as abrogating the Constitution. Instead of using the funds to improve the quality of life of the forgotten people of Pakistan, by improving the health, education and transport systems in the country and strengthening the institutions, these much needed funds just went down the drain. After receiving the enormous aid, General Musharraf became a different man and instead of trying to fulfill his 7 point agenda, he pursued his own personal agenda of “Self above all” and stay in power, no matter ever the cost. What followed is history.

Today, the same General stands on trial for treason and his future is in the hands of the very man who he had jailed and sent into forced exile. It is amazing how history repeats itself, sometimes with a sadistic twist.  

In Musharraf’s case, he has given his constitutional right to defend himself, while in Nawaz Sharrif was denied this opportunity and was given a one line ultimatum, to leave the country or go to jail.

And at that time, Nawaz had also chosen the pragmatic offer, packed his bag and left the country for Saudi Arabia, but only to return after fourteen years and reclaim his constitutional position as Prime Minister of Pakistan.  

Musharraf’s fate now lies in the hands of Justices Faisal Arab, Muhammad Yawar Ali and Syeda Tahira Safdar, who form the Special Court. The prosecution lawyers feel that it is an open and shut case as, “The way Musharraf violated the Constitution, is amply documented, just like all the main illegal orders issued by him on November 3, 2007 are formally notified in the official gazette and are indisputable”.

Each of these documents constitutes the high treason charges, as all these notifications involve the abrogation of the 1973 Constitution by him alone and in all these cases, Musharraf is the signing authority. Then, there is the clear-cut Supreme Court judgment handed down on July 31, 2009, which holds Musharraf guilty of violating the Constitution.

According to the legal eagles, Musharraf will be the first military ruler in Pakistan's 66 year history to be tried for high treason, a crime punishable by the death or life imprisonment.  The decision has raised many questions, including the timing of the trial, especially when the country is facing a serious challenge from the Taliban militants and a power and economic crisis. Political pundits and skeptics are already of the opinion that this historical trial will never be allowed to reach its logical conclusion, as the army will not allow its former Chief to be humiliated in a civilian court.

Therefore, what will be the fate of the former dictator is not clear, but at least it has set a precedent, that no one is above the law and everyone is accountable. This very fact should be a deterrent for any other General and force him to think twice before dismissing a civilian government and seizing power, even if it is “in the best interest of the country”, the usual explanation to justify this illegal act by the Generals.

n Email: trust@helplinetrust.org