Saturday, November 22, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Nov 23, 2014

Widening ambit The Special Court trying former military ruler General (retd) Pervez Musharraf on high treason charges has through a split 2-1 decision, accepted his plea to include his alleged collaborators in the imposition of the November 3, 2007 emergency. To this end, the court has ordered the inclusion of former chief justice of Pakistan Abdul Hameed Dogar, the then prime minister Shauqat Aziz, and the then law minister Zahid Hamid. The last named resigned from the Nawaz Sharif cabinet after the order. The court did not accept that part of the defence counsel’s plea for further widening of the ambit of the case to include former military top brass or the parliamentarians who endorsed the emergency. Be that as it may, the order as it stands implies that the case proceedings so far stand nullified and the case will virtually begin afresh after the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) set up for the case has had an opportunity to restart the investigations to include the three alleged co-accused named in the order. Witnesses and evidence will have to be produced and submitted ab initio after investigation in order to meet the demands of the court’s procedure and justice. As if this delay, which could stretch from months to years, were not enough, the question of ‘persuading’ and/or issuing international warrants to get Shauqat Aziz back on home soil, without which the joint trial cannot proceed, seems destined to become a major roadblock to progress in the case. Musharraf’s defence lead counsel, Barrister Farogh Nasim’s strategy all along had been to persuade the court that his client had not acted alone and that the requirements of public interest and justice demanded that his alleged advisers/collaborators also be indicted. The court has partially accepted his plea after it had reserved its verdict on the same on October 31. Justice Yawar Ali recorded a dissenting note stating that the defence had failed to persuade him of the involvement in imposing the emergency of those the defence wanted included, and that post facto implementation of the emergency’s provisions did not amount to collaboration in what is seen as a violation of the constitution. In effect, the acceptance of the defence plea, albeit partially, can be considered to have put paid to any ideas the government may have had of putting Musharraf in the dock for treason for reasons actually stemming from his 1999 military coup that overthrew Nawaz Sharif’s government, imprisoned him and family members, and finally sent them into forced exile in Saudi Arabia. Since the government did not charge Musharraf for the 1999 coup and only confined itself to the 2007 emergency, it has left its case open to the kind of clever manoeuvring Musharraf’s defence team has resorted to, which could effectively mean the case may or may not chug along, and even if it does, may not find closure till the end of the government’s tenure. So much for that project. Naturally, the court’s order has been met with delight on the part of the Musharraf team and sheepishness on the part of prosecutor Akram Sheikh. It is no secret that the military was less than pleased to see an ex-COAS dragged over the coals in this and several other cases filed against him since the Nawaz Sharif government took office. In fact some analysts see this as one of the issues on which the military has managed to wring behind-the-scenes concessions from the government by taking advantage of the pressure exerted on the government by the Imran/Qadri sit-ins. Whether that speculation has any weight or not, one would perhaps not be remiss in thinking that the decision would have pleased the military. This government’s penchant for shooting itself in the foot is once again demonstrated by the quixotic project to bring Musharraf to justice on treason and other charges. Even a child could have told the ‘wise’ heads in the government that this would prove a red rag to the bull and create unnecessary complications for the government. But throwing all caution to the winds, the government went against the wishes of the military by proceeding headlong with the case and now seems hoist by its own petard. The desire to redress the imbalance in civil-military relations and punish coup makers may be unexceptionable on the touchstone of justice, but to embark on such an adventure in the absence of the requisite political strength to see it through smacks of foolishness in the extreme. The government now once again seems to be whistling in the wind without a clue how to proceed from here.

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