On Gen Musharraf’s trial under Article 6

What is most noticeable about the government decision regarding asking the chief justice to form a commission to try Gen Musharraf under Article 6 of the constitution is its timing. It comes just a few days before the announcement of the next Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC). It also comes on the eve of the hearing of Gen Musharraf’s petition in the Sindh High Court to take his name off the Exit Control List (ECL) facilitating him to travel abroad.

Ever since his induction into power, Nawaz Sharif has had his eyes focussed on assuming hegemonic control of all state institutions, judiciary and the army included. If he could somehow wear the robes, he would sit as the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and if he would be allowed to adorn the khaki uniform, he would lay his claim to being the COAS also. This is the real him, and this is how the foot-soldiers of his close clan encourage him to be: sit atop all centres of state authority and guide them along the way his whims and fancies may desire.

The announcement to hold Gen Musharraf responsible under Article 6 has no real substance to it. Everyone knows that, once pursued, it would be well nigh improbable to hold any one person responsible for the proclamation of emergency. In matters of statecraft, such decisions are not taken alone by individuals including the heads of government. These are the result of pursuing a consultative process within the ruling hierarchy. I don’t carry a brief for Gen Musharraf as countless of my writings would testify that were published during his tenure in power. The question that I am raising is the lack of sincerity behind the move and an unstated intention to use the prospect as a ploy to subdue the army further so as to facilitate the prime minister to nominate people of his exclusive choice to the pivotal positions of the COAS and the CJCSC. It is a different matter altogether that, in case the ploy works and he is allowed the leverage to go ahead unchecked, it would make for an unmitigated disaster.

There are many substantiating points. Why has the decision regarding the nomination to the post of the CJCSC been withheld? Why hasn’t the next COAS been announced yet? The need for having made these announcements well in time was even more pressing because of the continually deteriorating security situation in the country and the expression of the political leadership’s resolve to initiate the process of dialogue with the militants and terrorists. It was essential that the nominated CJCSC and the next COAS should have been given ample time to put their heads together to formulate an effective and sustainable strategy to pursue against the onslaught of terror. This is being purposely denied to the armed forces to keep them under pressure as the person the government is moving against is none other a former COAS. Confronted with the prospect, it is expected that the military will be on the back foot, thus allowing the prime minister to run away with his choice nominees, his Mamnoon Hussains, to the coveted posts.

The timing of the announcement is also questionable in view of the sectarian chaos that the country is currently engulfed in. The legal pundits have taken exception to the course that the government has chosen to initiate the proceedings and most of them have dubbed it as incorrect and a time-wasting tactic.

It appears that the prime minister and his foot-soldiers have not learnt anything from experience. They seem to be hell bent on imposing their writ on all state institutions and pressuring these to do their bidding. They have not learnt that it is through a smooth and combined mechanism that has the approval of all state institutions that the existential challenges confronting the country can be addressed. It cannot be done by imposing an individual’s exclusive and flawed writ. But, then, it is not the state that takes precedence in their distorted scheme of things. It is always them and their personal interests that shape their governance narratives.

The lack of sincerity of the government is also reflected in the path they have chosen to pursue the matter. The formation of a commission to undertake the arduous task raises questions with regard to its relevance to the assignment and the prospects of its success. The history of commissions in Pakistan is humiliating to say the least. These have dragged issues to eternity and their decisions, if any, have never been implemented. How would this new commission be any different from the previous ones and how would it ensure that its decision, if and when it comes, is also implemented?

But most important is the guiding purpose behind the move. I believe that at a time when the country needed to put its act together and forge unity among its ranks (including the armed forces and the judiciary) to combat the growing evil of terror, the government has undertaken a task that can only cast disunity and divisiveness.

The prime minister and his foot soldiers and paid cronies and spokespersons may have a target, but they remain insensitive to the prospect of institutional response which this move is bound to generate. This is so because in their blood flow the germs of dictatorship, not of a democratic polity. They remain enamoured with the eventuality of demonstrating complete sway over all state institutions and subduing them to the point of irrelevance. This is the core component of a mindset that can only wreak destruction.

But, there is no going back now. The ball has been set in motion. There is only the future to look forward to – a future that may raise more questions than it may answer. There are also rumours about the onset of dementia to which I have not paid any attention, yet. More about that some other day!