Does justice evoke equality?

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By Nazarul Islam, December has been a month of swinging fortunes; having haunted Pakistan’s former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf—even years after he was forced to vacate his office. This has been a story of fluctuating fortunes for the soldier, in his long span of a military and political career. Last month, he was handed a guilty verdict by a Special Court in a treason case, which awarded the death penalty.
Former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf
For the moment, it seemed that Pakistan’s all-powerful military was finally being made accountable for its actions That flicker of hope has been all but snuffed out by the Lahore High Court, which has in a surprise judgment, overturned the Special Court verdict. In its decision last Monday, the Lahore High Court maintained that the filing of the complaint, the constitution of the Special Court, the selection of the prosecution team and the trial process were illegal. Hence, the Special Court verdict against Musharraf was held ‘unconstitutional’. Yes, that’s what it said!
Few in Pakistan ever expected the death penalty to be implemented or even the guilty verdict against Musharraf, to be upheld by the higher judiciary. Without any doubt, the military wields enormous power over all of Pakistan’s institutions and has never tolerated any challenge or criticism of the generals’ excesses or violations of the Constitution, their misuse of power or perhaps, instances of corruption.
The institution has sought to project itself as the ultimate guardian of Pakistan’s interests and has even justified its coups and ill-advised adventurism against India by selling this argument. Henceforth, it was the military that decided who is a ‘traitor’, or the state enemy. All that had changed with the Special Court verdict. A traitor verdict against one of their own was simply unacceptable to the military, a stain on the image it has sought to project of itself for decades. This ‘monster’, therefore had to be shut down immediately.
It is likely that the military, with the active connivance of the government of Imran Khan, could have influenced the Lahore High Court to throw out the special court verdict against Musharraf. As expected, the military had flexed its muscles, and the Lahore Court fell in line. In its verdict, the court had reiterated that high treason and subversion of the Constitution —the crimes Musharraf was alleged to have committed while he was President in 2007 —were ‘a joint offense’ that ‘cannot be undertaken by a single person.’ It got Musharraf off the hook. By overturning the groundbreaking verdict of the special court, the Lahore High Court has thrown away an opportunity to make the Pakistani military accountable for its actions.
Let Pakistanis not remain complacent. Musharraf can still be tried again, in another court. However, Pakistani analysts say that this is unlikely to happen as the present government, which includes many people who are military protégés and Musharraf loyalists, will not agree to reconstitute a special court for a new trial. This may extend the life of the Khan government and propel their rise in the political hierarchy but by empowering the military, Pakistan’s present government has immeasurably weakened the health of Pakistan’s democracy. Perhaps yes, and perhaps no!
And Monday’s ruling, by a three-member bench of the High Court, found that the special court that issued the sentence was unconstitutional. Several lawyers and analysts have stated that the current government, which includes many Musharraf loyalists, was unlikely to reconstitute the special court for a new trial.
The three judges, in the Punjab city of Lahore, had opined that the case against Mr. Musharraf was politically motivated and that the crimes he was accused of committing — high treason and subverting the Constitution — were ‘a joint offense that cannot be undertaken by a single person’. Hence the former President can not be held solely for the actions including those of government officials.
Mr. Musharraf is 76 years of age, had been accused of subverting the country’s Constitution in 2007–an act, in which he fired much of the judiciary, and imposed a state of emergency in an attempt to block a political any possible opposition movement. That was known as the Lawyers movement—which had greatly weakened him, in the political arena. Which left him with no other option but to resign, in the face of looming impeachment.
when originally announced in December, the death sentence had been seen largely seen as symbolic — the first time in the country’s history that a former military ruler had been held accountable for actions taken while in office. It was futile for Pakistanis to expect that impartial justice would be carried out in a country where the military, has always wielded immense power. Therefore, expectations were rife that the former COAS had to be protected at all costs!
Soon after the former Army c-in-C’s death sentence was announced, the Pakistani Army wasted little time— in criticizing the court verdict and had also called for a legal review. Next, Mr. Musharraf’s legal team had challenged the sentence in the Lahore High Court this month.
The treason trial was initiated in 2013 by the prime minister at the time, Nawaz Sharif, whose earlier government Mr. Musharraf had toppled in a bloodless coup. Today, Musharraf — who is now in Dubai in a self-imposed exile — has claimed that the charges against him were politically motivated.
Mr. Musharraf has also maintained that he was not alone in the imposition of the state of emergency in 2007, and had been aided by senior government and military officials.
He did not appear in the initial proceedings of the treason case, and his security convoy was mysteriously directed to a military hospital before one hearing held in the year 2014. Despite his complaints of chest pains, many had believed that the military was protecting him from prosecution.
Finally, former President Musharraf was allowed to leave the country for medical treatment in 2016, and although he vowed to return and face the legal cases, he was unable to do so.
Coming back to the main story, after the former President Gen Pervez Musharraf was handed a guilty verdict by a Special Court in a treason case and handed the death penalty, it seemed that Pakistan’s all-powerful military was being made accountable for its actions at last.
That flicker of hope has been all but snuffed out by the Lahore High Court, which has overturned the Special Court verdict, announced ‘in absentia’. This decision was announced Monday, whereby the Lahore High Court has maintained that the filing of the complaint, the constitution of the Special Court, the selection of the prosecution team and the trial process were invalid, and therefore not lawful.
Hence, the Special Court verdict against Musharraf has been deemed as ‘unconstitutional’. Few in Pakistan had expected the death penalty to be implemented or even the guilty verdict against Musharraf to be upheld by the higher judiciary. Traditionally, the military has wielded enormous power, over all of Pakistan’s institutions and has never tolerated any challenge or criticism of the generals’ violation of the Constitution, their misuse of power or corruption.
It has sought to project itself as the ultimate guardian of Pakistan’s interests and has even justified its coups and ill-advised adventurism against India by selling this argument. Henceforth, it was the military that decided who is a traitor.
All that has now changed with the Special Court verdict. A traitor verdict against one of their own was unacceptable to the military, a stain on the image it has sought to project of itself for decades. This had to be shut down immediately.
It is likely that the military, with the active connivance of the Imran Khan government, influence(?) the Lahore High Court to throw out the special court verdict against Musharraf. As expected, the military had perhaps flexed its muscles, and then the Lahore Court fell in line.
In its verdict, the court said that high treason and subversion of the Constitution —the crimes Musharraf was said to have committed while he was President in 2007 —were ‘a joint offense that cannot be undertaken by a single person. This really has got Musharraf off the hook. By overturning the groundbreaking verdict of the special court, the Lahore High Court has thrown away an opportunity to make the Pakistani military accountable for its actions.
Apparently, Musharraf can still be retried in another court. However, Pakistani analysts have more than again, pointed out that this is unlikely to happen as the present government, which includes many people who are military protégés and Musharraf loyalists, will not agree to reconstitute a special court for a new trial.
All this may extend the life of the government of Imran Khan, and propel their rise in the political hierarchy but by empowering the military, Pakistan’s present government has immeasurably weakened the well being and robustness of Pakistan’s democracy.
In the words of the great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King—the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice!
Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi

Nazarul Islam

The author is a former Educator, based in Chicago (USA).

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