All impediments to the much awaited trial of former dictator General Pervez Musharraf under Article 6 of the constitution seem to have been cleared with the announcement of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif in the National Assembly to this effect in response to a query from the Supreme Court. This, indeed, is a very significant development that has stirred a raging debate on the implications of the decision taken by the government.Some circles fear that Musharraf’s trial might open a Pandora’s box, which will be difficult to handle and might lead to some undesirable consequences. Their contention is based on the belief that Article 6 not only envisages proceedings against the person, who abrogates or tends to sabotage the constitution, but also his abettors that in the present case might implicate some serving generals. This impression is generated by Musharraf’s defence lobby to create a situation of fear and anxiety. His lawyer, Ahmed Raza Kasuri, is on record to have pleaded before the court that the November 3, 2007, action by the General was not a personal act, and suspending the constitution, removing the judges and promulgating the PCO was done in consultation with his colleagues. The purpose ostensibly is to create a situation whereby Musharraf can be saved by extending the net. Moreover, some quarters are demanding action against the people, who supported and abetted the October 1999 coup, in the interest of justice. That notion alludes to the involvement of all corps commanders and judges of the Supreme Court, who validated the military takeover that is another attempt to generate confusion about the issue. Actually, both these views are devoid of any legal basis and those who are propagating them are unaware of the legal developments concerning the episodes of October 1999 and November 2007. In the former case, Parliament through the 17th Amendment gives indemnity to military coups and, therefore, the chapter of proceedings against Musharraf or his abettors is closed forever. In regards to November 3, 2007, actions by Musharraf, the Supreme Court in its judgment of July 31, 2009, in the PCO judges case has already held the General solely responsible for the tragic episode - the 1999 coup. Therefore, the question of holding anybody else responsible for it simply does not arise. The court in its judgment has done two things: firstly, it has declared those actions unconstitutional and null and void ab initio and secondly, it has singled out the person guilty of sabotaging the constitution. No government or trial court can, therefore, proceed contrary to what the Supreme Court has already decided. So, the fears that the trial will open a Pandora’s box are unfounded and somewhat malicious in intent.The special trial court, which will be constituted to try Musharraf under the High Treason Act 1976, would only have to determine whether the former dictator would be awarded death sentence or life imprisonment if there were some mitigating circumstances in the present case. He, needless to say, has already been declared guilty of sabotaging the constitution by the apex court. Some analyst, however, suspect that even in case of such an eventuality the army’s reaction will determine the shape of things in this country. My personal view is that here again the fears are rooted in the past conduct of the army leadership. Having said that, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has remained aloof from politics and supported democracy in the country, which represents a change in the attitude of the khaki mindset.All political parties in Parliament are unanimous in their resolve to let the former dictator face the consequences of his unconstitutional actions. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has played his cards in a very shrewd manner in enlisting across the board support to the stance of his government. The trial of Musharraf and his conviction will establish the credentials of the judiciary as a truly independent entity, besides acting as a deterrent to the would-be adventures and go a long way towards strengthening democracy.Whether the sentence awarded to Musharraf is actually implemented or not is a different question altogether. A substantial number of people believe that he came back after certain guarantees of the international players, who traditionally have been playing their role in bailing out Pakistani leaders in trouble and they would ensure that he was not harmed. I personally go with this view while firmly supporting the holding of the trial, though having a symbolic importance. Benazir’s rapprochement with Musharraf and Nawaz’s sojourn to Saudi Arabia after having been awarded death sentence are vivid examples before us. This view also makes sense if we have an incisive look at the circumstances under which Musharraf came back to Pakistan. He knew the dangers and was not so naïve as to take the plunge before ensuring that the move did not backfire. His conviction may be set aside by the President under his constitutional powers to pardon a convict, or we might see Musharraf leaving the country under an internationally-brokered agreement that is within the competence of the government to negotiate.

The writer is a freelance columnist.