Musharraf verdict a case of judicial overreach in Pakistan

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By Shahab Jafry
Now this isn’t just one man’s opinion. It’s an order by a special court constituted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan; which means it is the law.
The way the death penalty awarded to former Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf, for high treason no less, is all the rage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he was really tried for ending former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s democratically elected government in October 1999, abrogating the constitution, instituting military rule, and all that. But he wasn’t.
They tried him, in absentia since he’s been gravely ill in Dubai, because he suspended the constitution more than eight years into his own government in 2007 after a standoff with the superior judiciary. And that too wouldn’t have been possible if amendments were made to the constitution about three years later, in 2010, to include the death penalty for holding the constitution in abeyance, etc.
If that reeks of a deliberate attempt to corner one man, as opposed to progressive legislation to protect democracy for the future, it’s because that’s exactly what it was. In fact – and this is what’s left practically everybody scratching their heads – it’s clear that they weren’t satisfied with just sending him to the gallows.
The detailed verdict went on to say that should the former army chief and president die a natural death before the state is able to execute him, then all law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are mandated to drag his corpse to Islamabad, to a famous square called D-Chowk, and leave it hanging there for three days.
Now this isn’t just one man’s opinion. It’s an order by a special court constituted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan; which means it is the law. And if General Musharraf does pass away and his family tries to bring him back to Pakistan for burial, LEAs won’t exactly be preparing for a state funeral, would they?
But first things first. Why do you think they didn’t try him for the October 1999 coup? Simple. Because not only did people celebrate all over the country, except PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) neighbourhoods perhaps, but the Supreme Court itself validated the takeover under the infamous doctrine of necessity. No doubt the general’s actions were unconstitutional, the honourable court said back then, but they did enjoy widespread public approval; besides with a record low approval rating PML-N had clearly lost the mandate to rule.
In 2007, on the other hand, Musharraf had picked a fight with the judges. That happened because of a tiff between then minister of privatisation Hafeez Sheikh – who, surprise surprise, is now de facto finance minister in Imran Khan’s government – and then PM Shaukat Aziz, who’s since retirement has become a super-rich fund owner/manager somewhere in the heart of Europe, which spilled out in the open and the top court took notice. But the background is a story for another day.
The judges then, for pretty obvious reasons, decided to scrap the doctrine of necessity and wrap Article-6 of the constitution (one that deals with high treason) around Musharraf’s neck. They tried it in the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) government that followed Musharraf’s, but nobody was interested.
It clicked, of course, when Nawaz Sharif came to power a third time; and nobody had an axe to grind with the general like poor Nawaz, who had to spend ten years in exile in the Gulf while Musharraf ruled the roost. So the trial began and the rest, as they say, is history.
And you can bet the army’s livid. Musharraf wasn’t just a famous chief and president. His name is etched in SSG folklore (special services group, the army’s elite special forces which he once commanded). Why do you think army chief General Bajwa flew to SSG headquarters as soon as the verdict was out? Just like his predecessor General Raheel flew there when the case was initiated. Because Musharraf has always been special for the best of the best in the military. A clash of institutions, therefore, is imminent.
And even as this confrontation is building nobody is answering some very important questions. One, if the 2007 emergency earned him the noose, was his rule legitimate from the original coup till eight years later? Why didn’t the judge with a penchant for dragging corpses touch upon this point at all?
Two, if Musharraf must hang, what of the hundreds of generals, soldiers, bureaucrats, politicians and, let’s not forget, judges that licked his boots and grew rich and powerful in those years? Musharraf asked for other players to be brought to court, and an earlier judge of the special court included three names – former PM Shaukat Aziz, former Supreme Court chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, and former law minister Zahid Hamid – but they were later excused for no reason at all.
And three, why is the law silent about judges letting personal feelings influence extremely high-profile judgments. Since there is no provision of dragging and hanging corpses in the law of the land, and the special court still asked for it in a very legal, binding document, who’s to answer for this particularly ugly miscarriage of justice? —Khaleej Times
{Shahab Jafry is a senior journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan}

If that reeks of a deliberate attempt to corner one man, as opposed to progressive legislation to protect democracy for the future, it’s because that’s exactly what it was. In fact – and this is what’s left practically everybody scratching their heads – it’s clear that they weren’t satisfied with just sending him to the gallows.

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