Originally Published 2013-06-25 00:00:00 Published on Jun 25, 2013
Not only is former President Pervez Musharraf likely to face trial for treason but also are others who abetted the crime - suspending the Constitution. This could draw in Army chief Kayani himself into the trial, if not as a co-accused but as a prosecution witness.
Musharraf case can pit Sharif against Army
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday (June 24) declared in the National Assembly that former President Pervez Musharraf would be tried for treason. The announcement sets at rest speculations that the former Army chief, who ruled Pakistan for over eight years, would get a convenient getaway. It also signals that the new civilian government is gearing up to take on the powerful Pakistan Army.

There are sufficient pointers to suggest a possible crossing of paths between the civilian government and the GHQ in the not-so-distant future.

This would be the first time in the history of Pakistan that a former Army chief would be tried in a court of law and that too for treason with the possible maximum punishment of death penalty. General Pervez Musharraf is facing a handful of other serious charges, most serious of them being his role or complicity in the assassinations of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and veteran Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.

Musharraf’s sudden return to Pakistan and his abortive attempt to gain a foothold in the politics was widely seen as part of Pakistan Army’s move to make Nawaz Sharif’s return difficult. Musharraf fell squarely into the legal trap which compelled him to flee the courtroom like an ordinary criminal and then take refuge in farm house where he remains under house arrest. The Army, however, had denied any association.

One thing was however sure. These events did not go down well with the powerful Army. The spectacle of a former Army chief facing humiliation in the court and in the media had evoked unease among the top military leadership, some, including the present chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who had worked closely with him. At least nine serving officers of the rank of Lt. Generals owe their promotions to Musharraf.

General Kayani, in fact, issued an oblique warning about "retribution" and "game of hide and seek between democracy and dictatorship" during an address at Rawalpindi on April 30. The statement was interpreted as an expression of the army’s annoyance at the shoddy treatment meted out to the former General by the lawyers. Several other retired Army chiefs and senior Generals also expressed their unease and cautioned against taking the issue too far.

There was also widely reported meeting between Kayani and Sharif at the latter’s residence on May 18, a few days after it became clear that Sharif would be the new man in Islamabad. Media speculated that one of the points of discussion was Musharraf’s fate. Kayani wanted a no-fuss exit for Musharraf. Sharif reportedly agreed to find an honourable way out. Sharif’s announcement in the Assembly however clears the fog, and pits his government against the army.

Another indication of the Sharif government’s trajectory vis a vis Rawalpindi could be gleaned by the Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s recent tirade against former ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha. Pasha has been a close confidant of Kayani. Pasha, during a National Assembly discussion post-Abbottabad raid, had accused the Chaudhary, the then Opposition leader, of unwarranted criticism because the ISI had rejected a personal favour sought by him. A close confidante of Sharif, the Interior Minister has been critical of the armed forces and its intelligence services in preventing terrorist attacks in Balochistan and other places in Pakistan.

Pakistan Army, which projects itself as a saviour of Pakistan, is particularly sensitive about its image and public opinion. General Musharraf had attracted widespread public derision after he dismissed the Chief Justice of Pakistan on trumped up charges and suspended the Constitution in 2007. The army, once held in high esteem, suffered a major blow to its image and stature. Kayani, who took over from Musharraf in November 2008, decided to stem the slide and rebuild the prestige and honour of the armed forces. He prohibited the army officers from hobnobbing with political leaders, launched military offensives against militants in Pakistan and carried out well publicised rescue and rehabilitation programmes in disaster hit areas of Pakistan. He rebuilt the image bit by bit, by striking a good rapport with Washington and Beijing till May 2011 when a US Special Operations team landed in Abbottabad and killed al Qaida supremo Osama bin Laden.

For Kayani, due to retire in November 2013, the Musharraf saga might turn out to be more daunting a challenge than the Abbottabad raid. Kayani, in the saddle for an unprecedented six years, wants to leave behind a legacy of having led a strong army, with a clear foothold in Afghanistan. Events in the recent past have pushed the goalposts a bit further. The reconciliation talks with the Taliban are stuck on a flag pole and the simmering duel between Kabul and Rawalpindi is breaking out at frequent intervals raising serious doubts about any settlement by December 2014.

But it is the Musharraf trial which could prove to be a turning point, for the worse, for Pakistan Army. Sharif has invoked Article 6 of the Constitution which states that "1<(1) Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance, the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.> (2) Any person aiding or abetting 2 the acts mentioned in clause (1) shall likewise be guilty of high treason. 3<(2A) An act of high treason mentioned in clause (1) or clause (2) shall not be validated by any court including the Supreme Court and a High Court.> (3) 4 shall by law provide for the punishment of persons found guilty of high treason."

In other words, not only is Musharraf likely to face trial but also others who abetted the crime-suspending the Constitution. This could draw in Kayani himself into the trial, if not as a co-accused but as a prosecution witness and will have to stand cross-examination. Musharraf’s counsel has already sought the Supreme Court direction to summon Kayani as a co-accused. Kayani was the Vice Chief of Army, when Musharraf took the decision. The government could decide to invoke Section 2 of the Article, thereby putting Kayani in the dock.

What is likely to complicate the relationship even more is the possibility of Sharif announcing a high-powered commission to examine the causes for the Kargil war sooner than later. One of Sharif’s key electoral promises has been to bring the armed forces accountable to the Assembly. Putting Musharraf on trial for treason is the first shot.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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