How significant is the death sentence of Pakistan’s former military ruler Musharraf?
Musharraf found guilty and sentenced to death
A Pakistani court has sentenced former military ruler Pervez Musharraf to death in absentia for treason over his 2007 imposition of emergency rule.
“Pervez Musharraf has been found guilty of Article 6 for violation of the constitution of Pakistan,” government law officer Salman Nadeem said.
In a decision announced on Tuesday, the bench awarded him the death penalty, with one judge dissenting. The reaction, as expected with an issue of such consequence and given the implications pertaining to institutional equilibrium, has ranged from exultation to outrage.
The general seized power in a 1999 coup and was president from 2001 to 2008. The penalty is unlikely to be carried out. Gen Musharraf was allowed to leave Pakistan in 2016 and is in Dubai. The high treason charge has been pending since 2013. It relates to Gen Musharraf’s suspension of the constitution in 2007 when he declared an emergency in a move intended to extend his tenure.
In November 2007, Gen Musharraf suspended the constitution and imposed emergency rule – a move which sparked protests. He resigned in 2008 to avoid the threat of impeachment.
Imran Khan remains cautious
This decision does not spell the end of military influence in Pakistan, and Imran Khan is acting cautiously after the verdict to ensure too much opposition does not arise.
In fact, the powerful military has watched the case carefully. It said the court ruling had been “received with a lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of the Pakistan Armed Forces”. “An ex-Army Chief, Chairman Joint Chief 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,” a statement said.
Retired air marshall Shahid Latif, who frequently appears in local media as a defence analyst, said the statement reflects the emotions of most of the uniformed men and women of the country. He said military personnel overwhelmingly feel that the sentence was meant to target a particular individual and that proper legal procedures were not followed.
Hence, Prime Minister Imran Khan discussed the issue with his top party aides on Wednesday as his government decided to support the retired General’s appeal against the “unfair” verdict. Khan said the verdict raised questions about the “urgency in pronouncing the judgement when Mr Musharraf was in critical condition in ICU” in Dubai. “There is no question that a person who had committed treason must be punished but in this case, the right of fair trial guaranteed under the Constitution was not ensured. A trial should not just be fair but also seen to be fair,” he was quoted as saying by Dawn newspaper.
Symbol of a shift from the army to civilian dominance?
The result of the court case is a highly significant moment in a country where the military has held sway for much of its independent history. It is the first time in Pakistan’s 72-year history that a military ruler has been tried with high treason.
Pakistan’s biggest political parties, whose government’s have been toppled at least once in past by military dictators, welcomed the verdict. “The verdict is historic and it will be welcomed by all democratic forces,” said Ahsan Iqbal, a senior leader of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party. “Democracy is the best revenge,” tweeted Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is the co-chief of Pakistan Peoples Party, echoing his mother’s comments before she was slain in a terrorist attack in 2007.
The decision is being acclaimed by many political analysts as a victory for civilian leaders in their long-running competition for power with the military. “It sets a precedent that would be hard to ignore by any future adventurist,” said Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, a senator of the opposition Pakistan Peoples’ Party. “Even if a democratic government is dismissed, constitution abrogated or held in abeyance, return to democracy would immediately trigger calls for a trial for treason.”
Pakistani society has shown aversion to long-term military rule despite repeated coups. Analysts say that explains why, after most military takeovers, the head of the military-installed himself as the head of some form of an elected government.
Despite this, some argue that since Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power in August 2018, the military’s grip has tightened further, and the development of this case will test this claim and the level of truth it holds.