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Editorial | Vengeful Tone Of Judges Totally Uncalled For

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The detailed verdict in the high treason case against General (retd) Pervez Musharraf – or at least one particular aspect of it – has cast the whole judgement in a poor light. This refers, of course, to the part where the special court stipulates that in case Musharraf dies before punishment, his dead body should be hanged and displayed for three days at D-Chowk in Islamabad.

Three aspects of this situation merit comment.

First, the fact that the judgement itself remains sound – based as it is on Article 6 of the constitution, which is quite clear on the fact that General Musharraf’s actions constitute high treason. The punishment described later can certainly mar the judgement, but should not be seen as cancelling out this immense judicial achievement, i.e. laying to rest the deplorable “doctrine of necessity” which has enabled dictatorship in Pakistan for decades.

Second, the nature of the punishment described here belongs more in the medieval or early-modern Cromwellian era than in the 21st century. After decades of dictatorship and fitful interludes of some sort of democracy, the fact is that none of the institutions in Pakistan’s state structure fully appreciates what it means to act within their constitutional ambit. Nor are they familiar with the good sense and restraint which allows a parliamentary system to function. That the judiciary is tempted to speak in such harsh and vengeful ways only points to the larger problem of constant instability and dominance by unelected institutions of the state.

The solution can only lie in all institutions committing themselves to operating strictly within the limits prescribed by the constitutional order. When arbitrary rule becomes the norm, excess becomes the standard means of doing business in the state.

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Third, the issue of the death penalty itself. Progressives in Pakistan have long argued, against a storm of blood-lust, that the death penalty is itself a deeply flawed means of delivering justice. This desire for dragging bodies, hanging them and displaying them is itself proof of the fact that the death penalty relies on sentiments of vengeance more than an actual desire for setting right the wrongs done by a criminal.

One can only hope that the genie of violent rhetoric and arbitrary rule can still be put back into the bottle, if all the stakeholders in Pakistan commit themselves even now to order and restraint.


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