Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Business Recorder editorial July 20, 2016

The Musharraf saga The long, winding saga of former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s high treason trial appears to have ended up in a cul de sac. The three-member Special Court trying the former military dictator on the charge of imposing the emergency in 2007 has ruled that it cannot proceed with the case unless the accused is either arrested and produced before it or surrenders and records his statement under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). Adjourning the case sine die, the court however held that Musharraf was a proclaimed offender for having failed to appear after he was allowed to proceed abroad for medical treatment by the Supreme Court earlier this year. Musharraf left for Dubai in March 2016, having made solemn commitments and given guarantees to return to face the charges as soon as his health allowed. Since then, reports speak of a hale and hearty Musharraf enjoying his lifestyle abroad that is by now familiar to Pakistanis. The Special Court has ordered that all Musharraf’s moveable and immoveable properties and bank accounts be attached under Section 88 of the CrPC. This order too appears to have run into snags as some of Musharraf’s properties are either army land allotments, co-owned by others, or have already been transferred, including to his wife Sehba Musharraf. Challenges on these and other legal bases are possible if not likely. The assignation of Musharraf as a proclaimed offender too could be negated by the usual ploy of medical certificates being produced in court to justify his continued absence abroad. In its July 19 order, the Special Court rejected the prosecution’s pleas for continuance of the trial even in the absence of the accused as well as suggestions that the former dictator’s statement could be recorded via Skype. Should we be surprised at Musharraf’s treason case ending up as a damp squib? After two and a half years of meandering through the courts, it has reached a not unexpected dead end. The support of the institution Musharraf headed may have been an important factor in this outcome, given that the military has not allowed any military coup maker in the past to be put into the dock either (General Yahya was declared a usurper by the courts only after his death). Musharraf had been expediently given safe passage abroad by the PPP-led government in 2008. He however, carried away by hubris, returned to the country under the illusion that he enjoyed immense support at home. Facebook ‘likes’ aside, what the dictator in his labyrinth failed to recognize was that those who supported him during his years in power were by and large sycophants, coattail hangers on and vested interests. This soon became obvious and Musharraf found himself in hot soup with few friends in sight. His trial by the Special Court, after he was charged with high treason for the imposition of the 2007 emergency in December 2013 and indicted on March 31, 2014, remained suspended after the Special Court in November 2014 ordered a reinvestigation to identify Musharraf’s abettors. Specifically, the order targeted then (and now again) law minister Zahid Hamid, Chief Justice (CJ) Dogar and then prime minister Shaukat Aziz. When the trial did eventually resume on the directions of the Supreme Court earlier this year, there was no shortage of sceptics who looked askance at the prospects, both because the charge of treason was confined to the 2007 emergency and not extended to the coup of 1999, and the track record of military coup makers getting away scot-free because of the overweening influence of the military. The 1999 coup was indemnified by the Supreme Court under the implied but still notorious doctrine of necessity, ironically by a bench that included Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The latter’s subsequent elevation to CJ reflected the good relationship he enjoyed at that time with Musharraf. It was only in 2007 that the two fell out, the reason being the dictator’s fear that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry would obstruct Musharraf’s ambition of being re-elected president in uniform. The rest, as they say, is history. That history continues to uphold the right of military coup makers and dictators to get away scot-free after wreaking havoc on the country.

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