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August 19, 2018

Will PTI govt continue Musharraf’s treason trial?


August 19, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to appoint Barrister Farogh Naseem as Minister for Law and Justice may signal the intention of PTI government not to pursue the treason trial of former military dictator, Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf, a decision which in the past marked the beginning of Nawaz Sharif’s downfall.

Farogh was Musharraf’s defence lawyer in the special court which was constituted on November 18, 2013, six months after the formation of PML-N government. He has not resigned to date, but he would not be able to continue in that capacity after taking oath as a cabinet member.

This MQM senator was tight-lipped about his future course of action. “I don’t know what I will do. Let me take a breath. I will discuss in detail later,” he told The News. Asked if he was still Musharraf's lawyer, he replied: “Is it important to tell right now?” However, outgoing caretaker law minister Barrister Ali Zafar believed Farogh faced an awkward conflict of interest. Once sworn in as law minister, Farogh would not be able express an opinion on whether to close or continue the case. Ali Zafar said the case might have to be referred to the federal cabinet for a decision. In an appearance on Geo News' current affairs programme Capital Talk during the general election campaign, Education Minister-designate Shafqat Mehmood vowed the PTI government would try Musharraf.

As the special court would resume its hearing of the case on Monday and the Supreme Court (SC) directed the government to repatriate Musharraf, the ball would be in the court of Prime Minister Imran Khan - doubly so because he has retained charge of the interior ministry. .

In case the PTI government initially chooses not take a clear position, it would still have to name a new prosecutor because the erstwhile PML-N government's appointee Akram Sheikh has quit. The appointment of his successor would be made on the advice of the Farogh-led law ministry and is likely to drop hints about the government's intentions toward the Musharraf case.

The PML-N government of since ousted and incarcerated former premier Nawaz Sharif had treated the case with urgency after forming the government in June 2013. A SC bench led by the then chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, took up the case in response to five petitions moved between 2010-13. The petitioners asked the court initiate Musharraf's trial or direct the government to do so.

The Sharif administration responded within weeks of receiving the court order's to act and directed the interior ministry to assign the Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency to launch an investigation into the treason charges against Musharraf. The investigation report was submitted to Supreme Court in November 2013. This followed a letter from the interior secretary to the court seeking the formation of a special court of inquiry.

A three-member bench was formed, led by Justice Faisal Arab, who was then a judge of the Sindh High Court (SHC). He quit after being elevated to the SC and was replaced by Justice Nazar Akbar of the SHC. The other two members, Justice Yawar Ali and Justice Tahira Safdar, are now the chief justices of Lahore High Court and Baluchistan High Court, respectively.

Farogh may be haunted by the questions he raised in court as Musharraf's defence counsel. He had declared the formation of special court as unlawful, arguing that PM Sharif had not sought the advice of the cabinet before initiating the trial; that the judges of the special court were biased against Musharraf and could not guarantee a fair trial; and that Musharraf was singled out for trial when other persons were also involved in the decision to impose a state of emergency in 2007.

These and other objections were dismissed first by the special court and later by the Islamabad High Court.

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