Despite Nawaz Sharif's announcement that treason charges would be laid against the former dictator General (ret'd) Pervez Musharraf, people remain highly skeptical. Some see it as political theatre; others believe Sharif is simply trying to divert attention from the serious problems facing Pakistan that Sharif has little ability to rectify despite making tall promises prior to may 11 general elections that his party won.
June 26, 2013, 11:24 EDT
The people of Pakistan can be forgiven for expressing skepticism about the treason charges against the former dictator General Pervez Musharraf. Will he actually face charges much less be convicted in a court of law is a question most people are asking. Treason is a very serious charge and could result in the death penalty. Also, the newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced in parliament two days ago that Musharraf would be tried under Article 6 of the Constitution for treason. He followed this by meeting Attorney General Munir A. Malik, a US-trained lawyer, on Tuesday to discuss the details of the case.
Sharif has taken other steps. In a letter sent today, he ordered the Federal Interior Secretary to ask the Director General of the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) to conduct an inquiry on an emergency basis into Musharraf’s conduct on November 3, 2007 when he suspended the Constitution, declared a state of emergency giving himself vast powers and sacked judges of the superior courts.
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was summoned to the presidency and presented with a letter of resignation to sign. In an unprecedented act of courage unique in Pakistan’s judicial history, Justice Chaudhry refused. He was threatened and put under house arrest but his act of defiance sparked protests across the country culminating in Musharraf’s resignation in August 2008. The course of history was changed. Musharraf’s resignation as president was preceded by his relinquishing the post of army chief from where he really derived his power. Once stripped of military command, Musharraf was powerless.
Typical of Pakistani rulers, once out of power Musharraf went abroad, first to Dubai and then to Britain where he spent much of his time, living in a lavish house apparently purchase for him by a kind Arab ruler. He returned to Pakistan in March. Who advised him to take this step has still not been fully explained. The Supreme Court had already declared him an absconder for failing to appear to face charges. Perhaps Musharraf thought the people of Pakistan would support him and elect him as well as his party to power. How he came to this conclusion remains a mystery.
He was barred from contesting the May 11 polls and is now faced with treason charges.
Skepticism, however, engulfs the statements emanating from Pakistani officialdom. Some talking heads have said this is all a show and nothing will happen to Musharraf. This view is most vociferously expressed by Shaikh Rashid, a former minister and current member of the National Assembly, the sole candidate from his own political party. Others have questioned the timing of the charges against Musharraf saying that the Sharif government wishes to divert attention from newly imposed taxes that are very unpopular with the people. Further, that extended power outages in blistering summer heat continue to make like miserable for most Pakistanis while the rulers and their hangers-on enjoy all the comforts of life including living in air conditioned palatial homes. Getting them distracted by Musharraf’s treason case certainly makes for good theatre. Further, the Sharif Brothers—Nawaz and younger brother Shahbaz—themselves are accused by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) of corruption. Media reports in Pakistan today said Sharif wants to bring the bureau under his own office by relieving the Law Ministry of this responsibility.
Steps against Musharraf, however, are continuing apace, at least for now. In a written response to the Supreme Court today, Attorney General Munir Malik detailed the federal government’s line of action in filing a complaint against Musharraf for his “unconstitutional actions”. Malik’s reply was necessitated by a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, asking the federal government to specify what steps it would take to file a complaint against Musharraf under Article 6 of the constitution. Malik further stated that in order to ensure expeditious completion of inquiry and investigation, the prime minister is also considering forming a commission to oversee and monitor the progress of the proceedings.
“On the completion of the investigations, the federal government shall file the requisite complaint under section 5 of the Criminal Law Amendment (Special Courts Act, 1976) and take steps to constitute the special court for the trial of the offense,” the reply said.
Meanwhile, Malik also revealed in court that the apex court’s order to send a letter to the Swiss authorities to open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari had been violated. A letter sent last November from the Pakistani government to do so was followed by another from the Law Secretary Yasmin Abbasi on November 22, 2012, asking the Swiss authorities to ignore the previous request and to shun the case. Malik told the Supreme Court that the Swiss authorities had closed the case on February 4 of this year. Naturally, the honorable judges were not amused and said those responsible will face contempt of court charges. May be, but Zardari, it would appear, has got scot free. He must be laughing all the way to his Swiss bank and many other banks around the world.
It is highly unlikely that elites in Pakistan will face any serious consequences for their misdemeanors. People may point to the April 4, 1979 hanging of the former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on murder charges to refute this claim. Bhutto was hanged not because he was guilty of murder—he was—but because either he lived or then military dictator General Zia ul-Haq. The good general thought it was better for Bhutto to be six foot under than he. Who could blame him for that? Musharraf is unlikely to be dangling at the end of a rope despite his treasonous acts. He is a spent force and is hardly a threat to Nawaz Sharif’s political survival. The gods may be smiling on Musharraf although he deserves no sympathy.