While Musharraf’s lawyers have openly spoken about a safe passage being offered to their client, the Sharif government seems determined to take the case to the bitter end
The last person to have imagined that he would be on trial for committing high treason was perhaps former Pakistan President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf. In a recent TV interview, he admitted that he appeared to have misjudged the government on that count. Despite the best advice from even the former ISI chief and other luminaries, he chose to take his chances in a country he left not in the best of circumstances in 2008. That anticipated groundswell of support for him was missing when he returned in March 2013 and he was not allowed to contest elections as well.
And the new government, headed by a man he had thrown out of power once and humiliated, slapped case after case on him. While he managed to get bail in all the cases, the trials are still continuing in the Benazir Bhutto assassination and the Akbar Bugti cases and when it seemed like he could finally leave the country, the government came up with a high treason charge against him for imposing emergency and putting the Constitution in abeyance in November 2007. Acting swiftly, it set up a special court with a three-judge Bench and appointed a special public prosecutor to try him but Mr. Musharraf has managed to avoid appearing so far and on the day he was summoned for the second time, he landed in hospital pleading a heart problem.
Twice, explosives were found on the route to the court and the former military dictator absented himself from the hearing on those two days, not leaving his plush farmhouse. Finally, the Bench had to issue another summons and on the day when it seemed like he would finally make an appearance, his convoy was diverted to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi where he was admitted with uneasiness in the chest, sweating and discomfort.
The court exempted him once again but last week, when even his defence counsels said they had no clue about his health, it called for a medical report from the hospital. A patient Bench finally had to summon him again to appear on January 16 for the charges to be read out to him after it found that the medical report did not indicate Mr. Musharraf had suffered a heart attack. The trial is mired in procedural delays and public opinion is divided on whether it was worth it at all to bring him to book.
Mr. Musharraf, in a spate of interviews, called on the Army to support him and even claimed it was doing so, though the Pakistani Defence Minister has denied this often enough. Even political parties like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement have been claiming he was being tried for being a Mohajir, a migrant from India, and a section of the political class too is sceptical about what the trial will achieve at a time when Pakistan is engulfed by the challenges of terrorism, a weak economy and acute power shortage.
However, the Nawaz Sharif government seems determined to take this to the bitter end. Mr. Musharraf’s lawyers openly spoke about a safe passage being offered to their client even before the trial began. The government later offered to fly home his ailing mother whom he wished to visit in Dubai. The government made it clear it was not going to remove his name from the Exit Control List (ECL) though his wife had made an application. There was also speculation when the Saudi foreign minister arrived that some deal was to be struck which the minister categorically refuted at a press conference.
Will he attend?
The question now uppermost in everyone’s mind is whether Mr. Musharraf will appear at the next hearing on Thursday. His lawyers have tossed the ball into the hospital’s court saying that if he is well, he can appear. The prosecution led by Akram Sheikh has been contending that there is nothing wrong with the General and he has the blood pressure of a young man and the pulse rate of an athlete as stated in the medical report.
If Mr. Musharraf appears in court, he will be indicted and the trial can then begin. For as long as he doesn’t, the court cannot proceed in the case, though it continues to hear the several applications filed by the defence, challenging everything from the constitution of the court, the appointment of the special public prosecutor and demanding that the trial can’t go on because the judges and the prosecution are biased. The court last week ruled that the Code of Criminal Procedure can apply to these proceedings after the defence spent a week arguing against it. This means that Mr. Musharraf can be arrested since all the charges against him are non-bailable, a fact that Judge Faisal Arab, who is heading the court, has been stressing to the defence. So far, he has refrained from issuing a non-bailable warrant and has granted Mr. Musharraf some leeway, keeping in mind his stature as former President and chief of army staff. The federal government and the Prime Minister, who has been trying to instil the rule of law, have clarified that the matter was now in court and it would be decided there. The question is whether the Army will countenance the trial of a former general and chief of staff, howsoever justified the government is in launching proceedings.