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GP Insights # 208, 21 December 2019
Under Article 6 of Pakistan's constitution, a special court found General Pervez Musharraf, a former ruler, guilty of high treason for suspending the constitution during the state of emergency in November 2007, imposed by him. Article 6 states, a person who "abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance," the constitution, shall be guilty of high treason. Musharraf can appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court.
What is the background?
Musharraf was booked for high treason in court in December 2013. Nawaz Sharif had shown his strong intent to bring these charges against Musharraf in June 2013 when he came to power. Musharraf had been Sharif's chief of army staff. In October 1999, Musharraf dissolved the Parliament and ousted Sharif in a coup. After years of fluctuating stability, in 2007, his fall from power began when he clashed with the judiciary. Musharraf began by sacking the chief justice that led to lawyers' protests. After this, on 3 November 2007, imposed a state of emergency in Pakistan, suspended the constitution simultaneously placed senior judges under house arrest.
The Supreme Court ruled the decision of imposing an emergency as illegal. Between 2013 and 2019, Musharraf failed to appear in court for the trial dozens of times, the hearing dates were postponed due to his illnesses, multiple prosecution heads quit or were fired by the government and the special court was reconstructed over six times. He had been placed on a no-fly list but on medical grounds received one-time permission to go abroad, but has not returned to Pakistan ever since.
What does it mean?
Musharraf currently lives in Dubai. Even if the appeal to the Supreme Court is upheld, it is unlikely that the sentence would be carried out. The verdict, however, stands symbolic as an unpredicted ruling against a former army chief of Pakistan. There is a perception that the judiciary in Pakistan is asserting itself and playing its constitutional role, against another institution considered to be the power centre.
Second, the military has reacted against the verdict in its initial statements, stating that it stands by Musharraf and is in 'pain and anguish,' over the verdict. The military feels that a person who served the country for over 40 years could never be a traitor and has called the trial as being concluded in haste. Clearly, the military is not giving up on Musharraf. More importantly, the statements suggest that it would like to retain its supreme position.
Third, is the response of the government. What remains surprising is that Imran Khan's government tried to delay the verdict, and is seen standing by the position taken by the military. Statements by him and his ministers show that they are not in favour of the verdict. Clearly, it shows, where the government and Imran Khan stand - siding with one institution against the other.