Of course, charging an ex-Chief of Army staff with treason will help us fight terrorism

 Published: April 1, 2014

After many hiccups and a long wait, the day has finally come and former president Pervez Musharraf has been indicted for treason. This is a new chapter in the history of Pakistan, for reasons both, good and bad.

However, before going into the reasons and the impact of this verdict, I think it is pertinent to recap the situation that led to the imposition of emergency on November 3, 2007 – the alleged violation of Article 6 of the constitution. Since the matter cannot be considered in isolation, let’s begin from the presidential reference against the former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The lawyers’ movement

The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) investigates charges against judges, as clearly mentioned in Article 209 of the constitution. The unrest began on March 9, 2007 when the then president filed a reference to the SJC on the advice of the then prime minister, Shaukat Aziz.

Sidelining Article 209, the lawyers’ movement made the SJC irrelevant. No one cared about the charges of nepotism, misconduct and corruption in the reference; rather, Iftikhar Chaudhry emerged as someone who stood against the dictator.

The irony was that he himself had supported this same dictator every now and then.

If you take a step back in time, you might remember the ruling of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on May 13, 2000 which claimed that Nawaz Sharif’s era was corrupt, ineffective and a ‘one man rule’, and hence, the overthrow of his government on October 12, 1999 was justified. Incidentally, Iftikhar Chaudhry was one of the judges in that 12-member court who favoured the military coup.

Not only that, he was also one of the nine judges who validated the Proclamation of Emergency dated October 14, 1999 and the Provisional Constitutional Order-I (PCO-I), as well as the referendum. In addition, he marked his presence in the five-member bench that validated the legal framework order issued by General Musharraf. He was also part of the five-member bench which passed judgment in favour of Musharraf’s uniform and the 17th Amendment.

Moreover, Iftikhar Chaudhry was the chief justice when the Supreme Court allowed Musharraf to be re-elected in uniform in 2007.

My question is, if the judgements stated above were wrong, why hasn’t the treason trial been initiated from October 12, 1999 against not only Pervez Musharraf but also Iftikhar Chaudhry and others who validated the coup and subsequent actions?

If these judgments are correct, there seems to be no reason for blaming Pervez Musharraf for the coup or calling him a dictator, especially when the Supreme Court itself allowed him to amend the constitution as well.

In retrospect, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had the golden opportunity to either reconcile and strengthen civil-military relations or initiate the trial of Pervez Musharraf over the military coup of October 12, 1999.

Unfortunately, he failed to do either.

By not pursuing the trial from October 12, he himself has endorsed the military coup, thereby accepting that he was guilty of hijacking from the ground. Hence, the decision of the Supreme Court validating the military coup stands tall, leaving no reason to consider Musharraf a usurper.

After being restored on July 20, 2007 the then chief justice adopted the confrontation mode with the executive and literally paralysed the government.

The chaos this resulted in provided an even playing field to the terrorists and the wave of suicide attacks began, mainly targeting law enforcement agencies. Keeping in mind the impending general elections and change in military command, it was a huge challenge to ensure a peaceful transition to the next elected government.

Law and order in 2007

Again, if we go back in history, the situation was extremely turbulent in the year 2007.

For one, there were the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) clerics challenging the writ of the state and threatening suicide attacks across the country. Then, there was an insurgency in the Swat district where the gang of a local cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, started beheading security personnel, killing lady health workers, banning polio vaccination campaigns and bombing girls’ schools and barber shops. There were suicide attacks on security check posts and on buses of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The Taliban announced the imposition of the Shariah in their territories and started public beheading.

There were at least 20 suicide attacks in 2007, mostly targeting military and security personnel. Then, there was a suicide blast at Islamabad Airport. The Punjab Minister for Social Welfare, Zil-e-Huma Usman was killed while there was an assassination attempt on the then Interior Minister, Aftab Sherpao.

Musharraf’s plane came under fire during the Lal Masjid saga and there was a suicide attack on the army officers’ mess in Tarbela Ghazi.

In the same year, Maulana Hassan Jan, who issued a fatwa against suicide bombings, was shot dead and almost 100 people were killed in sectarian violence in Parachinar in three days. A suicide blast took place in a mosque on Eidul Azha in an assassination attempt on the Interior Minister, Aftab Sherpao. He survived but more than 50 were killed in the attack.Then, a suicide blast occurred close to the residence of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Around 150 people were killed in the attack on Benazir Bhutto’s convoy when she returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007.

Quite understandably, the economy suffered terribly during this time. All this took place in 2007 with the general elections expected to be held at the end of the year. Hence, a peaceful, democratic transition was a huge challenge for the then government.

How did the government try to improve the situation?

Keeping in mind the above facts, there is no doubt that the country was in a state of emergency. The then Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, wrote a letter to President Pervez Musharraf urging him to take measures to handle the situation. After in-depth consultations with all the stake holders including the prime minister, governors of all four provinces and top brass of the military and Corps Commanders, President Musharraf declared an emergency by exercising Article 232 of the Constitution of Pakistan to deal with the menace of extremism and terrorism.

During all this turbulence in 2007, the judiciary remained hostile towards the government and state machinery and kept releasing alleged terrorists. Hence, the judiciary was also addressed and the judges who didn’t take oath on the new PCO were dismissed.

Inaction at that time would have been suicidal for the country and since the constitution did not provide any solution to the situation, extraordinary measures had to be taken.

It must be remembered that Musharraf was holding dual office at the time. Announcing an emergency as an army chief doesn’t negate the fact that he was also the president. One must also remember that an emergency was imposed on October 14, 1999 by the army chief and the Supreme Court validated it.

After imposing the emergency, he held the constitution in abeyance for a limited time which was not a violation of Article 6 at that time. It was the 18th Amendment, introduced in 2010, which termed it an act of treason. Logically speaking, one cannot and should not apply it on November 3, 2007.

Another point to note is that a treason trial can only be initiated by the federal government while this trial against Musharraf has been initiated on the Supreme Court’s order. And yet, the treason trial has singled out former president for violating clause two of Article 6 without considering the aiders and abetters. There are serious concerns about the members of the special court as well, which need to be addressed for impartiality.

This trial is historical and the first of its kind in the country. Apart from all the ‘ifs and buts’, it is a fact that the former president not only returned to Pakistan, he also appeared in court against his doctor’s advice, surrendering to the rule of law.

Let’s hope that all measures of justice will be taken without any victimisation.

Following the thumb rule, the principal of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ should be given to those who don’t consider Musharraf responsible for treason. And it must be noted that while the country and military are in a state of war, the killers of 50,000 Pakistanis are ‘stakeholders of peace’ and we have spotted one traitor.

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