Blow for Musharraf

February 23, 2014 - 6:26:57 am

Former army chief’s demand to be tried under military jurisdiction has been turned down in a welcome development.


Former Pakistani military ruler Perverz Musharraf has suffered another setback. The special court that has been convened to try Musharraf for suspending the Constitution in November 2007 has turned down his demand to be tried under military jurisdiction. This means there will be no military court for Musharraf and with this ruling ends his hopes that his case would be handled with leniency. The former military strongman believes that the current court is handling his case with vendetta and shifting it to a military court would guarantee him justice.

The special court’s decision has been largely welcomed in Pakistan. Some experts believe that crimes against the Constitution, drawn up and approved by civilians, ought to be tried by a civilian court and moving it to the military court will set a bad precedent. There should be no reason for Musharraf to distrust the country’s judiciary and such distrust should not come from a former president.

The fact that the plea has been rejected by the special court doesn’t mean that the path has been cleared for a trial and conviction of the former army chief. There are different views about how the court is treating Musharraf. Some say the court has bent over backwards to accommodate the demands of Musharraf by giving him every possible right to due process and a fair trial. However, there is also a less generous view: the court, in endlessly delaying even the indictment of Musharraf, is giving a high-profile accused a special treatment.

The trial has been going on for some time and it’s time for the special court to expedite the hearing and give a verdict, though the progress the court has made so far is commendable. That a civilian court can decide to try a former army chief after an elected civilian government carries out an independent investigation is a significant step forward for Pakistan’s transition to democracy and civilian supremacy. These are great gains and these gains should not be squandered away with an inordinate delay in giving a verdict. Musharraf has been using every weapon within his means to delay the trial and escape the clutches of the law and he has succeeded to some extent. At the same time, the special court has been treading cautiously. It’s fully aware of the importance of the man under trial and is giving him enough freedom.

It’s also remarkable that the army has been keeping a distance from the trial and hasn’t upset the democratic applecart. As long as the trial is seen as just and its verdict in accordance with the law, there will be broad support from the military and the Pakistani public to the verdict. It’s up to the court to act fast.