“Despotism can no more exist in a nation until the liberty of the press be destroyed than the night can happen before the sun is set.”– Walter Colton

Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet’s momentous decision to prosecute General (r) Pervez Musharraf will have both short -and long-term repercussions for Pakistan. Also, reportedly, the July 2009 Supreme Court decision pins the responsibility of abrogating the constitution on him. This may seem as a normal procedure that will deter any such action in future, but it will surely raise several issues and the road ahead will be perilous. Hence, those who are demanding maximum punishment for the General are advised to follow the path of restraint and caution. As a matter of fact, broad-based principles of justice demand that similar trials must be initiated against all those who have abrogated the constitution. And the question, whether those who collaborated with its abettors deserve some punishment too, will also crop up. Another important question is: what will be the fate of the members of the judiciary, who legitimised the actions of military dictators in the past? So, those who profess that only Musharraf should be tried are grossly mistaken and their viewpoint may not have much acceptability among the vast majority of people. The formula put forward by seasoned politician Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain - that instead of proceeding under Article 6 of the constitution, a truth and reconciliation commission should be established to closely review the issue - is quite reasonable. But if, indeed, Musharraf is to be tried under Article 6, then there is danger of a serious collateral damage. That would adversely affect the morale of its military and the country’s security.There are no two opinions that whatever Musharraf did to boot out a democratically-elected government is not acceptable, but the frenzy and mob mentality that seems to be gaining momentum could leave no winners at the end of the show. Prime Minister Nawaz will have to be extremely careful before he undertakes this perilous journey because the General’s trial could, in fact, be an elaborate trap prepared by those who have always been against the democratic system of government. Currently, the Prime Minister seems to be surrounded by some ‘wise men’, who may force him and senior ministers to take the wrong way. That may, God forbid, lead to an early demise of democracy. In addition, several retired military men have started to express their opinions candidly about the issue, which must be taken as warning shots by those who are trying to lobby for a quick trial and, perhaps, conviction of Musharraf. Against this backdrop, there are some questions that need immediate answers. What would happen if the minutes of one of several meetings held in Rawalpindi by the generals before Musharraf decided to abrogate or suspend the constitution would indicate that it was not the act of an individual, but that “collective wisdom” prevailed at that point in time? In case it was established beyond any doubt that several senior army personnel - some of whom are yet in service - were equally responsible for Musharraf’s illegal and unconstitutional acts, would they also be tried or will it just be the ex-COAS, who will have to face the music? One hopes that not only the political leadership, but also the organs of the state will show the required restraint and not be carried away by the trial of the former President. It must be remembered that it will not be just Musharraf on trial, but the entire nation as the world will monitor the events that unfold in Pakistan. Also, it is expected to adversely affect on the country’s economy, thus creating more problems for the people.

The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.