A special court in Islamabad has pronounced former military ruler retired General Pervez Musharraf guilty of high treason and handed him a death sentence under Article 6 of the Constitution. The verdict, which has no precedent in Pakistan’s history, has generated a lot of heat and controversy in the country’s political and judicial circles.
This is the first time that an army chief has been declared guilty of high treason. According to Article 6 of the Constitution, “Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or hold 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.” The punishment for high treason is death or lifetime imprisonment, according to the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973. The three-member bench of the special court — headed by Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and comprising Justice Nazar Akbar of the Sindh High Court and Justice Shahid Karim of the Lahore High Court — announced the verdict.
Earlier, in a video statement from Dubai Musharraf called the treason case “absolutely baseless. I have served my country for 10 years. I have fought for my country. This (treason) is the case in which I have not been heard and I have been victimized.” The high treason trial of the former military dictator for imposing the state of emergency on Nov 3, 2007, had been pending since December 2013. Musharraf came to power after ousting then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a 1999 bloodless coup. He was booked in the treason case in December 2013, when the PML-N government under Nawaz returned to power. Musharraf was indicted on March 31, 2014, and the prosecution had tabled the entire evidence before the special court in September the same year.
In its detailed judgment, the special court has ordered that the dead body of Pervez Musharraf should be dragged to D-Chowk and hanged there for three days. Not surprisingly, the military has strongly reacted to the conviction and sentencing of the former army chief. In a statement, the ISPR DG has said that the verdict has been received with “a lot of pain and anguish by the rank and file” of Pakistan’s armed forces. The statement came after an unscheduled meeting of top military officials at the General Headquarters. The military’s point of view is that an ex-Army Chief, chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and President of Pakistan, who has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defence of the country can surely never be a traitor.
The paragraph 66 of the court order has specially drawn the ire of the army and the government. It was authored by Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth who directed that the body of former President General Pervez Musharraf be dragged to D-Chowk and hanged for three days. The Minister for Law Farogh Naseem described the order as unconstitutional, illegal and against the shariah and announced that the government would file a reference against Justice Seth in the Supreme Judicial Council.
According to him, public hangings are in contravention of the Constitution and Islam: “There is no room in Article 6 of the Constitution; in the High Treason Act, 1973; in the Criminal Amendment Act of the special court, 1976; for a judge to have the authority to present such an observation.”
According to legal experts, the due legal process was ignored in pursuing the case, including constitution of the special court, denial of fundamental right of self-defence, undertaking individual specific proceedings and concluding the case in a haste. It has also been said that the former military ruler has not been given “the right to fair trail”, and that all the steps in the criminal justice procedure have not been completed against him.
On the other hand, Attorney General Anwar Mansoor has said that the judgment in the high treason case raises many questions as it was pronounced in a rush and did not provide Pervez Musharraf the right to defend himself. The AG has also said that the action against Pervez Musharraf was void as the cabinet did not allow the complainant to file a complaint against the former president.
The special court verdict has touched off a storm of controversy in the country. The judgment’s far-reaching implications for the country’s future political developments cannot be underestimated. The primacy of the army, which holds a predominant position in the current scheme of things, has been challenged by a growingly assertive judiciary which earlier overturned the government’s notification extending the Army Chief’s tenure by three years.
Some analysts foresee a clash of institutions in the days ahead. One hopes that better sense will prevail on all sides and an effort will be made to avoid unnecessary confrontation and ensure smooth working of the democratic system.