January 02, 2014 - 7:26:33 am
Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf must be ruing the day he decided to come back to Pakistan. That comeback was planned with great precision; he had great hopes of rescuing his country from the morass it’s in, and the public was expected to be ecstatic about his return. But nothing of the sort happened and the 70-year-old former military ruler is now fighting a fierce battle for his own survival, after being charged with high treason by the current government headed by his former foe Nawaz Sherif.
In a sign of his worsening problems, Musharraf failed to appear in court yesterday to face a formal indictment for the second time in two weeks, while a testy exchange between his lawyers and a panel of judges added a new round of drama to the closely watched case. The special tribunal has ordered Musharraf to appear today, choosing to postpone the hearing just one more day instead of immediately the former ruler and forcing him to attend the hearing.
The whole drama shows that Musharraf is finding himself isolated. It’s also not clear what consequences a continuation of his trial would have, because he doesn’t enjoy enough support among the public though there are doubts about the extent of support for him from the military. At a press conference this week, Musharraf claimed he enjoys the sympathy of the country’s large military establishment. But reports suggest the military is divided on the issue. Some groups are said to have expressed sympathy for Musharraf’s efforts as president and disapproval of the current prosecution, while others are distancing themselves from his dictatorial actions, saying they undermined the country’s democracy. And there has been no public comment from current military officials, which means the military doesn’t hold a single view on the goings-on.
Despite the claims and counterclaims, one question that could be asked is whether the current trial is impartial and uninfluenced by extraneous factors. Musharraf has an acrimonious relationship with the country’s judiciary, which every Pakistani knows. For the same reason, the judiciary will have to move cautiously. Any act that is seen as giving a vindictive nature to the trial can have adverse consequences. The army too is unlikely to tolerate the victimization of its former chief. Musharraf’s defense team has also filed legal petitions arguing that the tribunal process is unconstitutional and biased, and that because he was an army general as well as president in 2007, he must be tried before a military court. A separate civilian court rejected these petitions in mid-December, but the defense has since appealed.
The coming weeks will be very crucial for Musharraf. But the fact that the public is allowing the law to take its course shows a maturing of its democracy•