General Musharraf Indicted: What Next?

A Pakistani court which indicted the former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf on high treason charges may have opened the doors for his exit from the country.

Posted on 04/1/14
By Sohail Khan in Islamabad | Via ViewsWeek
Pakistan's former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf is escorted by military guards to the special court in Islamabad. (File photo from video stream)
Pakistan’s former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf is escorted by military guards to the special court in Islamabad. (File photo from video stream)

Pakistan was in the grip of rumors on March 31st that the country’s former military ruler might leave the country any time. According to one report a small business jet from a Gulf Arab country had arrived in Islamabad and waited for an unidentified passenger at the Noor Khan  Air Force Base in Rawalpindi.

 

The High Treason Charges

1) Firstly, on 3rd November, 2007 at Rawalpindi as Chief of the Army Staff, he issued an unconstitutional and unlawful “Proclamation of Emergency Order, 2007” which, unconstitutionally and unlawfully, held the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 in abeyance and he thereby subverted the Constitution and thus committed the offense of high treason punishable under section 2 of the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973 (Act LXVIII of 1973), which is within the jurisdiction of the Special Court established under section 4 of The Criminal Law Amendment (Special Courts) Act, 1976 (XVII of 1976).

 

2) Secondly, on 3rd November, 2007 at Rawalpindi as Chief of the Army Staff, he issued an unconstitutional and unlawful “Provisional Constitution Order No. 1 of 2007” which, unconstitutionally and unlawfully, empowered the President to amend the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 from time to time and he also suspended the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Articles 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 19 and 25 of the Constitution and he thereby subverted the Constitution and thus committed the offense of high treason punishable under section 2 of the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973 (Act LXVIII of 1973), which is within the jurisdiction of the Special Court established under section 4 of The Criminal Law Amendment (Special Courts) Act, 1976 (XVII of 1976).

 

3) Thirdly, on 3rd November, 2007 at Rawalpindi as President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, he issued an unconstitutional and unlawful “Oath of Office (Judges) Order, 2007” whereby an oath was, unconstitutionally and unlawfully, introduced in the Schedule which required a judge to abide by the provisions of the Proclamation of Emergency dated 03.11.2007 and the Provisional Constitutional Order dated 03.11.2007 to perform acts and functions in accordance thereof and this order also resulted in removal of numerous judges of the superior courts including the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Pakistan and he thereby subverted the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 and thus committed the offense of high treason punishable under section 2 of the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973 (Act LXVIII of 1973), which is within the jurisdiction of the Special Court established under section 4 of The Criminal Law Amendment (Special Courts) Act, 1976 (XVII of 1976).

 

4) Fourthly, on 20th November, 2007 at Rawalpindi as President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, he issued an unconstitutional and unlawful Order 5 of 2007 “Constitution (Amendment) Order, 2007” whereby Articles 175, 186-A, 198, 218, 270B and 270C were, unconstitutionally and unlawfully, amended and Article 270AAA was added to the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 and he thereby subverted the Constitution and thus committed the offense of high treason punishable under section 2 of the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973 (Act LXVIII of 1973), which is within the jurisdiction of the Special Court established under section 4 of The Criminal Law Amendment (Special Courts) Act, 1976 (XVII of 1976).

 

5) Fifthly, on 14th December, 2007 at Rawalpindi as President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, he issued an unconstitutional and unlawful Order 6 of 2007 “Constitution (Second Amendment) Order, 2007” whereby the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 was, unconstitutionally and unlawfully, amended and he thereby subverted the Constitution and thus committed the offense of high treason punishable under section 2 of the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973 (Act LXVIII of 1973), which is within the jurisdiction of the Special Court established under section 4 of The Criminal Law Amendment (Special Courts) Act, 1976 (XVII of 1976).

The news came hours after a special court, constituted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government, indicted the former military ruler for high treason on five counts. Musharraf, who was in the court at the time of his indictment, pleaded not guilty.

 

Musharraf ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008. It is for the first time in Pakistan’s history that a former chief of the army has been indicted for treason. If convicted he could either face death sentence or life imprisonment under Article 6 of Pakistan’s constitution.

 

Monday’s indictment did not end the judicial drama in the case. The court, while indicting Musharraf, asked the government to take a decision on his application for permission to leave the country for treatment and to visit his 95-year-old ailing mother, currently admitted to a hospital in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The court ruled that it has no jurisdiction to bar Musharraf from leaving the country as he is not under arrest in the high treason case. It also exempted the General from personal appearance at the future hearings, a move many analysts thought could pave the way for him to leave the country.

 

Pakistani commentators have for long maintained that Sharif government may not be able to deny a request from its Gulf Arab friends, especially Saudi Arabia, which gave asylum to Sharif and his family under a deal with Musharraf in December 2000. History seems to be making a full circle, say Pakistani analysts, as Saudis are pulling the strings behind the scenes once again to rescue another Pakistani politician, this time for Musharraf’s exit.

 

Some sources in Islamabad say Sharif government might have already received a verbal request from the Saudi royalty which enjoys immense influence on Sharifs. The recent 1.5 billion dollar “donation” to Pakistan reportedly from Saudi Arabia has already given birth to numerous rumors  about the quid pro quo the Sharif government has committed to Riyadh for the Saudi generosity. Islamabad has denied any underhand deal with Riyadh, especially on Syria. The government has denied reports in recent weeks that it has committed to supply shoulder fired anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles to the Saudi-backed Syrian opposition.

 

Barrister Farogh Naseem, one of Musharraf’s attorneys, has filed a formal application with the interior ministry, which has the authority to grant the former military ruler  permission to leave the country.

 

The Sharif government has so far refused to allow Musharraf travel abroad for treatment. And it showed no signs of change in its policy after the court verdict, at least in its public posturing. “We will be sabotaging the norms of justice if we allow him to leave the country,” defense minister Khwaja Asif told a Pakistani television channels. Pakistan’s interior minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan also met Sharif after the court verdict and it is believed that Musharraf’s request for permission also came up for discussion. The meeting’s outcome, however, remained unclear.

 

Musharraf is reported to be under tremendous mental stress and has been transferred to intensive care unit of the military-run Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi, at least twice during this week. He also suffers from heart complications.

 

His formal trial would commence on April 15 when the prosecution will present evidence for his conviction. Head of the prosecution team Muhammad Akram Sheikh told reporters after the indictment that as the accused pleaded not guilty, he will have to prove his innocence. Sheikh has repeatedly claimed that due to “sufficient” available evidence, the trial could end in 10 to 15 days.

 

But many in the legal fraternity have doubts since the question of trying Musharraf’s abettors is bound to come up during the trial. In fact some of Sharif government ministers have been publicly saying in recent days that Musharraf’s abettors could also face justice. If such a trial is also opened, it could create new complications for the government itself because the accused names could include at least one of its own ministers, former generals and top bureaucrats. It could increase government’s tensions with the powerful military as well, which is already showing signs of discomfort at Musharraf’s trial.

 

There were signs of new strains between the government and the military. On April 1st, Sharif unexpectedly cancelled a scheduled meeting with the country’s army chief General Raheel Sharif and Director General of ISI General Zaheerul Islam. However, he reconvened the meeting later and the two generals reached the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad by helicopter till the last reports came in.

 

Earlier on March 31, a three-member special court headed by Justice Faisal Arab and comprising Justice Tahira Safdar and Justice Yawar Ali resumed hearing of high treason case against Musharraf for subverting the constitution while issuing proclamation of emergency rule in 2007.

 

The former military dictator, who has termed  his trial as political vendetta, earlier escaped indictment on February 18. Later, on March 11, he again escaped indictment in the wake of Interior Ministry’s threat alert, outlining the possibility of an attack on him and consequently his arrest warrant was issued on March 14, after he did not show up to face indictment.

 

He, however, appeared on March 31st amidst strict security. Justice Tahira Safdar, a member of the special court, hailing from Balochistan province, read out five charges to Musharraf.

 

“Not plead guilty,” said a tense looking General Musharraf, after the charges were read out to him.

 

Musharraf asked the judges to allow him to address the court. Once granted permission, the former president told the court that it was painful for him to hear the word ‘traitor’ being used for him despite the fact that he had served Pakistan’s Army for more than four decades.

 

“Is this the justice being meted out while calling him as traitor as he put the country on the path of progress giving everything to this country”, Musharraf told the court. “I had spent time with the soldiers in the mountain of Siachen so is it a treason”, he posed the question.

 

He sounded unrepentant for overthrowing the elected government of Nawaz Sharif in 1999, contending that Pakistan was declared a failed state and he was the one who brought the country amongst 11 fast developing countries.

 

“I worked for the development and progress of this country. My leadership had given respect to this country and now the Pakistanis could see in the eyes of the world, so is this is a treason”, Musharraf further questioned.

 

Later, prosecutor Muhammad Akram Sheik went to Musharraf and shook hands with him and prayed for his ailing mother. Musharraf thanked Akram Sheikh for his good wishes. Sheikh told Musharraf that he had not bias against him.

 

“Than why did you oppose my applications”, Musharraf quipped to Sheikh.

 

A Milestone or a Stunt?

Despite Musharraf’s indictment, many Pakistanis remain unconvinced that he will ever see jail. Reasons for this opinion are plenty. The topmost being the expected reaction from the military. The Sharif government may try to draw political milage from the trial but many government critics call it a political stunt to by the Sharif government to settle old scores.

 

“If the government was truly sincere in setting an example, it would have tried Musharraf’s cronies as well,” said Saleem Siddiqui, a New York-based analyst. He says if the government was sincere in trying Musharraf for his crimes, he would have been tried for the 1999 coup which was a bigger crime than the 2007 imposition of emergency.

 

Pakistan’s oldest and most respected daily Dawn seems to agree with Siddiqui’s observations. In an editorial titled Musharraf’s indictment, Dawn says: “As known to one and all, Mr Musharraf was indicted for the November 2007 Emergency that saw him try to extend his hold on power by ousting a superior judiciary that may have stood in the way of him gaining yet another term as president. But, as also known to one and all, nothing Mr Musharraf did on Nov 3, 2007 would have been possible if it were not for the fact that he had already overthrown the Constitution and grabbed power — back in October 1999. Trying the former dictator for actions that were only possible because of the original sin, the original coup, without so much as a mention of the original sin is problematic, and inadequate.”

 

Dawn like many other major dailies, however, declared the verdict “historic”.

If indictment took far too long, a trial itself with Mr Musharraf inside the country is still far from a certainty. The will-he, won’t-he question has immediately taken center stage: will Mr Musharraf be allowed to travel abroad, thereby reducing the likelihood of a return to Pakistan ever again, or won’t he be allowed to do so? For now, the matter appears to be the federal government’s to decide, but it is likely to seek direction from the Supreme Court first. The pre-trial circus may yet continue for a while.

With additional reporting by ViewsWeek. 

Sohail Khan is an Islamabad-based journalist.

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