Which way will the trial of Pervez Musharraf go?

The special court that has been tasked to hear a high treason case against retired General Parvez Musharraf Friday dismissed the defence's plea against its jurisdiction and transferring the case to a military court.

The former strongman is facing charges under Article 6 for suspending, subverting and abrogating the Constitution, imposing an emergency in the country in November 2007 and detaining judges of the superior courts.

Musharraf's lawyers had argued that the three-member bench formed by the government after the Supreme Court sent it a list of five judges from which to appoint them did not have jurisdiction over the trial because when Musharraf imposed the sweeping Emergency, he was still the army chief.

Moreover, the defence counsel felt the presiding judge, Justice Faisal Arab, could not override "inherent bias" since he had refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) from Musharraf after he declared Emergency. The PCO was declared ultra vires of the Constitution by the Supreme Court in 2009.

Justice Arab dismissed the plea on the grounds that a treason trial, according to law, can only be heard by a special court and that the accused was no longer in military uniform.

After Friday's ruling, Musharraf has been summoned before the special court on March 11 when a formal indictment will be made.

The trial is historic alone for the fact that it marks the first time a former army chief will be held accountable for extra-constitutional measures.

The military has directly ruled Pakistan for half of its existence and despite considerable progress down the democratic path since Musharraf was ousted from power following a popular revolt in 2007, the army retains its clout as an interventionist force.

If evidence was ever needed, even a glimpse into how the Musharraf drama has unfolded so far is instructive.

In the interim, his road to the court remained mired in 'too clever by half' diversions: twice explosives were found outside his palatial residence in Chak Shahzad on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, and last month, he developed a "heart condition" on the way, and was swiftly taken to a military hospital with a route lined up remarkably quickly by security personnel from the military.

Musharraf's subsequent attempts to seek "timely" medical treatment abroad for health issues outlined by a report deemed by his previously decorated medical specialist in the US as requiring urgent attention — but dismissed by independent specialists as easily and expertly treatable in Pakistan — helped reinforce the perception that putting an army chief on trial will remain a red line.

Not until the court ruled after hearing and concluding, on the basis of medical opinion, that the former general can undergo treatment in Pakistan, and hence appear before it, was Musharraf forced to accept the trial as fait accompli.

Regardless, the pomp with which he arrived at, and left, the court the past week — a cavalcade of 17 vehicles under the protection of Rangers and paramilitary personnel going past a 1000-strong police presence on the roads to and from the court — have only reinforced perceptions about the outer limits of a democratic order.

Even though the court has stuck it out gamely, and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif insists the case will take its logical course, the strong undercurrents of a fragile civil-military relationship is at the heart of where the trial will go from here.

Even though speculation is rife that the government will align itself with the military amid mounting pressure for an offensive against the Taliban, the duration — and fallout — of undertaking such action could very well impinge on the Musharraf trial.

In the event of a full scale operation against terrorists, the military establishment will be loath to "diversions" like the Musharraf trial and both the federal government, which initiated the trial, and the court, may find themselves thrown into a tailspin.

An article in the New Yorker the other day purports that General Raheel Sharif, the current army chief, has a family connection with Musharraf going back to his war decorated brother's time, and pertinently, that he reportedly ordered that Musharraf be taken under army's protection!

Also, interesting is the theory doing the rounds in private circles at the highest level in the government. The buzz is that old nemesis Sharif is only interested in a conviction on paper, which he will then use for a pardon, and pave the way for the former general to take everyone out of their respective miseries and fly out of Pakistan.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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