Sunday, December 15, 2013
From Print Edition
Even now, with his first court summons set for December 24, there are many who can’t quite believe that former dictator Pervez Musharraf will finally be facing trial for his various crimes. They still feel that a man who once wore a uniform will never be allowed to face justice in front of civilians. That the charges against Musharraf include five counts of treason seems to further decrease the likelihood that he will ever be put on trial. Yet the government, formed by the same party that was kicked out of power by Musharraf in 1999, and the Supreme Court, dismissed by the dictator in 2007, seem
s ready to take Pakistan into unchartered territory: one where there may be consequences for disregarding and suspending the constitution. Musharraf’s trial is still some months away, which may lead to many opportunities to pluck him out of the country or perhaps exchange a guilty plea in return for clemency. The government and the judiciary should resist the pressure to let Musharraf off the hook. Holding him accountable is important so that future military adventurers realise that there are penalties for law-breaking.
The Musharraf case will also be the toughest, most public test of new Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani’s mettle. He is a far less confrontational figure than his predecessor Iftikhar Chaudhry, which may lead some in the permanent establishment to believe that he can be pushed around. His quiet demeanour, however, should not mean that Jilani will be any less independent than Chaudhry. The government is also holding firm, even though it is likely being pressurised to show more flexibility on Musharraf. The truth is that Musharraf has had it easy so far. He was allowed to live in his massive estate rather than jail and received pre-trial bail in all his previous cases, even though it is hard to think of another person who is a greater risk of flight before his trial. Those cases should now also go ahead so that the families of Akbar Bugti and the children of Lal Masjid get a chance to move ahead after the losses inflicted on them by the dictator. Musharraf’s various trials may not undo the damage he inflicted but they make the likelihood of a repeat less of a certainty.