ISLAMABAD - The government’s apparent intention to try former dictator General (r) Pervez Musharraf while bringing to an end the debate over whether the incumbent regime was inclined towards taking to task the ex-military man for his actions, it appears to have raised another question: Will the powerful military establishment digest the bitter pill if the ruling brass is to have its inclination materialised?

A stark line of divide seems noticeably drawn between the two schools of thoughts over Musharraf’s trial. In an obviously predicted response, some ex-generals ‘warn’ of ‘serious repercussions’ if the former army chief was to be proceeded against, which, according to them, would adversely impact the civil-military relations. Other strategic thinkers and defence experts believe, holding the former military boss accountable would mark the supremacy of constitution in its actuality without creating any fault lines between the military and civilian political leaderships.

“Why should the action against an individual be deemed as an attack against an institution?” noted strategic expert and former foreign secretary Khurshid Ahmed Khan responded to some reports circulated by pre-establishment circles that military would not ‘tolerate’ seeing their ex-boss put to trial.

“I don’t think there would ever be any misunderstanding between the military and civilian leaderships. He (Musharraf) was fully aware of the consequences when he decided to land into Pakistan. The military also understands it would be next to impossible to get the former general off the hook. Putting General Musharraf to trial is an action directed against an individual for what he did to constitution. That’s not a decision to be taken by anybody alone. It reflects Parliament’s will. From politicians to different cross sections of our civil society, there have been demands of initiating legal action against Musharraf,” he told this scribe.

Referring to Article 6, Khan said that the said article left for the Parliament to recommend punishment for the person accused of high treason.

“When Parliament, which is the collective platform of the Pakistani nation’s elected representative, is to decide what to do with Musharraf, any institution would not be left with reasonable grounds to go for war course.”

In his speech in the National Assembly on Monday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had hinted at Musharraf’s trial saying that the ex-dictator should be held accountable for abrogating the Constitution of Pakistan.

This has not gone well with another former chief, who believes “dragging a four-star general into the courts” will end up in clash of institutions. “Let bygones be bygones,” commented General (r) Mirza Aslam Beg when approached for comments on Monday’s major development. He was referring to Pervez Musharraf’s October 12, 1999 coup that had sent packing the then government led by Nawaz Sharif.

“(Almost) 14 years have gone past now. If you keep digging the past, this will have very serious repercussions. Not to forget that the man in question remained Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff for a decade.”

Beg, who was ruled against by the Supreme Court in Asghar Khan case last year for rigging the 1990 general elections resulting in the defeat of Benazir Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party, said that armed forces had ‘resentment’ over the way former generals were being treated.

“When decorated generals would be dragged into the courts, it will stir a very strong reaction.”

Asked if the ‘strong reaction’ referred to another military coup against a democratically elected government, he said. “I’m not saying that but stakes get very high in any highly charged situation, I’m telling you.”

On the other hand, Ambassador (r) Rustam Shah Mohmand sounded vocal in declaring that it would be a win-win situation for democracy and political diaspora if Pervez Musharaf is made accountable in the light of Article 6. “This would be the revival of real democracy in Pakistan. Although, the democratic transition through general elections is a big leap towards strengthening democracy, democratic practices would further flourish and democratic traditions cement if Musharraf is made to pay a heavy price for his deeds,” he said. “It’s now the test of politicians and Parliament whether they stand by their resolve or sweep this matter under the carpet.” 

Requesting anonymity, a former spymaster, who also faced a court trial, said that the Article 6, which attracted death sentence or life imprisonment, at least, had never been applied on any army officer up to the rank of a brigadier.

“There had been cases when some relatively junior officers were court martialled for high treason (on espionage charges,) in the distant past. But no one even up to the rank of a brigadier has ever faced punishment for high treason. What to talk about a general,” he said predicting that Musharraf’s trial was unlikely. “It’s just a political gimmick to avert criticism. This hype will die down with the passage of time and everybody will forget the general’s trial.”