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It Is Now Generals Vs Judges

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The verdict of the special court in the Musharraf treason case seems to have symbolically closed the door for all times to come on military coups in the country. Even those powers of the armed forces which it has wielded from behind the façade of a civilian puppet are being drastically curtailed, writes Muhammad Ziauddin.

Pakistan seems to have sleep walked into a new crisis, an exceptionally serious one, with the armed forces of Pakistan and the country’s superior judiciary finding themselves in a confrontational equation on the fundamental issue of their respective constitutional limits.

Within a matter of a few weeks leading to year-end, two court cases have generated intense tension between the judiciary and the armed forces, first on the issue of the extension in the service of sitting Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa which was granted by President Arif Alvi on the advice of Prime Minister Imran Khan and; second on the death sentence delivered by a special court to former COAS and President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf.

In the first case, it is still a mystery as to who inspired the petitioner, known for being a habitual petitioner and being also an establishment ‘peddler’ to go to the SC with his petition on extension issue. The resolution of this mystery would perhaps make it easier to put the entire issue in its proper context and help in accurately analysing the motive behind the move.

In the past, the two institutions, the Army and the superior judiciary have worked hand-in-hand against the civilian politicians. The two have jointly rigged elections to keep the ‘undesirables’ out of power corridors and also joined hands to get rid of ‘rebellious’ rulers brought in by the two through rigged elections.

The superior judiciary has resorted to what is called doctrine of necessity every time a military takeover was challenged by the forcibly ousted elected rulers and granted the army legitimacy needed to rule the country as long as it wished. And during each one of the general elections that were held in the country, the superior judiciary along with the Election Commission of Pakistan which has always been packed with retired or serving members of judiciary would ensure that the results matched the desire of the day of the armed forces.

However, if one were to believe outgoing Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Asif Saeed Khosa’s statement that the current superior judiciary was totally different in character from the one that had served the country until 2009, then presently the country seems to be passing through more curious times than it had ever.

The verdict of the special court in the Musharraf case seems to have symbolically closed the door for all times to come on military coups in the country. And the confrontational equation that has framed the relations between the superior judiciary and the armed forces since about 2009 seems as if even those powers of the armed forces which it has wielded (when not in the front seat) from behind the façade of a civilian puppet are perhaps being drastically curtailed.

Indeed, the very fact that the armed forces have refrained from responding with a ‘bloodless’ take-over and restricted their reaction to a disagreement on Musharraf’s verdict through a harmless press release indicated that they have recognized the changed ground realities.

The Musharraf verdict

It was an open and shut case. But it took the courts over six years to reach the historic verdict. A special court constituted to hear the high treason case against former president General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday sentenced him to death for imposing a state of emergency on November 3, 2007. It was a 2 to 1 verdict of a three-member special court.

The Pakistan Army has vehemently disagreed with the verdict. According to press release issued by Director General Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor, the verdict has caused extreme resentment, agitation and anger among the armed forces.

The special court trying the former dictator under the provisions of Article 6 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has found him guilty on five counts – violation of the Constitution, arresting Supreme Court judges, illegally amending the Constitution, issuing provisional constitutional order (PCO) and suspending the Constitution.

The verdict came as a complete surprise for the general public because from the day the case in question was instituted in 2014 by the PMLN government, our security institution had made it very clear that it was not in favour of the move and without, however, taking a visible public position on the matter, it took surreptitious steps to hinder the case reaching its logical conclusion.

What, however, was even more surprising was the public reaction of the armed forces to the ruling of the special court. Never before in the past the armed forces have ever reacted in such a manner to a court verdict.

Even the PTI-led coalition government has disagreed, equally vehemently with the verdict. Mansoor Ali Khan, the Attorney General of Pakistan, in a press conference which he addressed immediately following the issuance of the ISPR press release took almost the same position as taken by the armed forces in the ISPR press release. He was accompanied at the press conference by Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information who also echoed similar sentiments.

Meanwhile, mainstream political parties, PMLN, PPP, ANP and the JI welcomed the verdict hoping that it would for all times to come close the door on military coups in Pakistan which had suffered as many as four military takeovers in its 72 -years existence, three of which lasted nearly a decade each and by the time each one of these came to their sorry end, the regime had dragged down the security institution as well rendering it highly unpopular in the public eye.

The coup staged by General Yahya Khan lasting three-years had led to a bloody military action in East Pakistan which became Bangladesh following the country’s dismemberment in the wake of an ignominious defeat of Pakistan Army at the hands of the Indian Army.

Attorney General has announced that he would go for a review of Musharraf’s case.

Interestingly, both the current attorney general of Pakistan Mansoor Ali Khan and the federal law minister Farogh Nasim have defended Musharraf in the treason case before joining the PTI government following the 2018 general elections. 

This fact further reassures the supporters of Musharraf that he would most likely get a ‘fairer’ trial in the SC.

CJ Khosa would have retired and gone home by the time the case would come to the SC for review and the new Chief Justice, Justice Gulzar Ahmad, known for his sagacity and legal acumen would perhaps, hopefully do the needful to inject a universally desirable balance in the equation governing the relations between the various branches of the state.

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