Treason Trial for General Musharraf?

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Media reports quote newly installed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as stating that his government intended to press treason charges against former President General Pervez Musharraf, who is currently under house arrest in his villa just outside Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Mr. Sharif has indicated that he would consult with all members of parliament before formally moving the Supreme Court to initiate proceedings. It was not long ago when the boot was on the other foot. Musharraf, Chief of Army Staff had launched a coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October 1999, for summarily dismissing the former while he was traveling on a plane from Sri Lanka to Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif was tried and convicted by an anti-terrorism court. At one time, it was speculated that he may face the death penalty for allegedly hijacking the aircraft from the ground, on which Musharraf was traveling! After serving some months in prison, Mr. Sharif was exiled to Saudi Arabia under a deal negotiated by the Saudis with Musharraf.There are previous instances in Pakistan’s history where political scores have been settled between the outgoing leader and his successor. However, this is the first time in Pakistan’s history that a former Army Chief could possibly be tried for treason and, if found guilty, face the supreme penalty. The major question is whether the army-which is a part, along with the executive and the judiciary of Pakistan’s ruling troika-will acquiesce to such an eventuality without reacting. The last thing Pakistan needs is the deterioration of the civil-military relationship to the extent that the Army Chief, in order to placate his constituency, is tempted to launch another coup against an elected government. While both the Pakistani politicians and some observers think that politics in Pakistan has evolved to the point that an army takeover is a remote possibility, I am not so sanguine. What the army may or may not do in the above contingency would, in my opinion, remain an imponderable for the near future.

Those that quote the example of Turkey where Prime Minister Erdogan has succeeded in sending Turkey’s all powerful armed forces back to the barracks, do not take into account that no two countries’ polities have evolved identically. The Turks are ahead of the Pakistanis in their constitutional development. Turkey today is the 18th largest economy in the world and is knocking on the doors of the European Union to gain admittance. Pakistan has had a problematic relationship with its neighbors, India and Afghanistan, and has had to devote a huge proportion of its budget to defense. This has negatively impacted upon its ability to make the requisite investment in its socioeconomic indicators, particularly education and health. Had this investment been forthcoming over the previous decades, through a more normal regional and domestic environment, Pakistan too would have been quite a bit higher on the United Nations Human Development Index like Turkey.

I feel how the newly elected government of Nawaz Sharif handles the Musharraf case could have a bearing on its future standing both domestically, regionally, and in the eyes of the international community at large. Pakistan has had enough discord and dissonance in its history where the politicians and army leaders have been bitter adversaries, and have tried to settle scores with each other. A lot of energy is thus spent on pursuits which, apart from their legal merits or otherwise, often emanate from a personal agenda. A mark of political progress would therefore be for any Pakistani civilian leader, to eschew to the extent possible, the politics of revenge and to focus his energies on resolving the manifold problems facing the country, all of which are crying out for a solution.

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