By JK Verma
New Delhi. 18 December 2019. Coup is not new to Pakistan’s polity. Before General Parvez Musharraf, General Ayub Khan, General Yahya Khan and General Zia-ul-Haq all captured power through coups. But their decisions to seize power from an elected government were justified through the “doctrine of necessity” by the then judiciary. Parvez Musharraf is just plain unlucky.
The special court comprising of Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth, Justice Shahid Karim of the Lahore High Court and Justice Nazar Akbar of the Sindh High Court awarded him the death sentence under Article 6 for high treason for declaring emergency in 2007. The case was filed by Nawaz government in 2013 and the court observed that Musharraf was guilty of high treason and subverting the constitution. Musharraf declared emergency in 2007 not as President of Pakistan but as Army Chief as at that time he was holding both the posts. The coup of 1999 was indemnified by Parliament but the second coup which was declaration of emergency was not ratified by Parliament. An ‘ailing’ Musharraf has both the options of appealing in supreme court and post that filing mercy petition to President .
Although judiciary in Pakistan claims itself independent but it never went against the extremely powerful Pakistan Army but recently a change from the norm has been visible. Surprisingly the Supreme Court took an unprecedented line in case of the three years extension to the present Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and now the special court dared to award death sentence to former Chief of Pakistan Army on treason charges. Both these judgements are difficult for Army to swallow, which claims itself to be the saviour of ‘Pakistan’. Now it is difficult for army to explain that neither it is in position to defend the extension of his current chief nor can safeguard its former chief from going to gallows.
The ‘selected’ Prime minister Imran Khan’s government appealed to Islamabad High court to stop the special court to give judgement in the case of General Musharraf. However, the high court delayed the order which gave time to special court to award the death sentence to Musharraf. Imran Khan’s interior minister Ejaz Shah was the Chief of Intelligence Bureau in Musharraf’s tenure while Law Minister Farogh Naseem was the defence lawyer of Musharraf.
Although judiciary awarded death sentence to Musharraf, but it is merely symbolic as all powerful Pakistan Army will never tolerate hanging of its former chief. The director general of Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR) issued a press release on December 17 after a meeting of top military generals in Rawalpindi. The press release clearly states, “the decision given by special court about General Pervez Musharraf, Retired has been received with lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of Pakistan Armed Forces”. The release also states, “General Musharraf served the country for 40 years and fought wars to defend the country can never be a traitor. It appears that due legal process was ignored, and it is expected that justice will be done according to the constitution of Pakistan.” In past the Army has not allowed Musharraf to be present in the court by admitting him in the hospital and later judiciary was compelled to permit Musharraf to go abroad. Imran government also dismissed complete prosecution team.
Both the judgements are significant as they raise an important question that how judiciary has become so emboldened that it passed verdicts against serving as well as former army chiefs. The knowledgeable sources claim that several serving generals in Pakistan army are against the three years extension to General Bajwa, as it will jeopardise their career. They claim that the disgruntled generals not only pressurised the judiciary but were also behind the ‘Azadi March’ of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUIF) which is a religious organisation with a vey little following. Fazlur Rehman was defeated in the parliamentary elections of 2018.
At present not only Army but Imran government is also unhappy with judiciary. The judiciary gave judgements against the army and also gave verdicts in favour of Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party leader Asif Zardari. Army chief is trying to win over opposition parties so that they cooperate in passing the law pertaining to the extension of General Bajwa. There are also reports that Army is unhappy with Imran Khan and considers that he is incompetent to deal with the current difficult situation. Imran Khan government is unable to take out the country from dire economic crisis as well as it cannot get the desired extension of the army chief. Hence the possibility that Imran Khan is forced to tender resignation and army chooses another prime minister cannot be ruled out.
On the other hand, the fate of General Bajwa is also uncertain. The present government needs help of opposition to pass the legislation about the extension of the present army chief. In case Imran Khan is unable to get the support of opposition General Bajwa will have to go. Hence there is also a possibility that General Bajwa may resign before the expiry of six months and may not wait the passing of the legislation from parliament.
General Bajwa is assessing the situation and he may overthrow the civilian government. The economic crisis in the country is deepening and the global terror watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) gave time up to February 2020 to comply with the FATF conditions otherwise it will be downgraded to blacklist. If General Bajwa takes over the power directly, the judiciary would be tamed, and the so-called honour of the Army will also be saved. However, General Bajwa would take this drastic action only if the civilian government fails to save the honour of the army. The present-day generals want to have a façade of civilian government and rule the country from background.
Meanwhile the man in the eye of the storm Parvez Musharraf who is currently in Dubai and suffering from amyloidosis which is because of a build-up of amyloid proteins in liver, kidney, heart or any other part of the body will never return to Pakistan unless his death sentence is revoked. The civilian government will not press United Arab Emirates to extradite General Musharraf who has also cordial relations with the ruler of Dubai. So lets wait and watch with bated breath for what happens across our borders sends ripples here.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and a retired senior intelligence officer. He is also member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)