If the bottom line is physically handcuffing a person who happened to be Chief of Army Staff not very long ago, then you have got a serious problem at hand, particularly if the motivating force behind is settling personal scores of a politician who reached the high skies of glory in an absolutely non-transparent mechanism designed and executed by that same army, albeit under another Chief of Army Staff but in a comparatively distant past.
True, that rule of law should be upheld. True, that Musharraf can be easily condemned for abrogation of the constitution. True, that democracy will get a shot in the arm if a former dictator is brought to the book. True, that the question of ‘institutional criticism’ is not involved here. And true, that General Raheel Sharif should not have given that statement regarding preservation of the army’s dignity on April 7 last at Ghazi Base. But true, that there are many more true things which can’t be ignored and the fallouts of which should be considered and considered thoroughly and seriously.
The real and attributed significance of the statement of COAS lies in selection of timing and its place of issuance. It came in the aftermath of hard-hitting statements of two cabinet ministers. And it was purportedly given at the headquarters of the Special Services Group (SSG) which Pervez Musharraf belonged to and took great pride in. It pushed most of the analysts to the same conclusion that the COAS wanted to bring his point home in the context of Musharraf’s trial – though apparently the important sentence was uttered in response ‘to the concerns of the soldiers on undue criticism of the institution in recent days’.
However, there are some other aspects to it too which can’t be ignored. For example, SSG’s commandos were used in Lal Masjid operation in July, 2007 as well in other anti-terror operatins. Lal Masjid Brigade today is the unofficial face of Taliban in mainland Pakistan and its capital city, Islamabad. It is a known fact that a suicide attack was made by the terrorists at Ghazi Base in September 2007 as retaliation to Lal Masjid operation in which 20 personnel were killed and scores injured. So, in that sense the context can be much wider and may encompass the terrorism issue too – in which the government has so far refused to listen to the army. It is also true that army in recent days has been the subject of criticism on other counts as well, particularly its past internal and external policies. However, Musharraf’s issue seems to be one among those the COAS wanted to make the institutional thinking known about.
It is very difficult to advise restrain to a democratically elected government in its handling of a former dictator’s affair. Claiming to be a democrat all one’s life and arguing to go soft on Musharraf seems to be contradiction in terms but keeping some seemingly unimportant or apparently detached aspects into consideration leaves one with no other choice. The matter is not black and white to the extent Prime Minister and some of his cabinet members believe it to be. It is not necessary to be judgmental or to become a party; becoming even a dispassionate observer can help one understand the seemingly distant (negative) pros and cons related to the instant matter.
The first requirement for Nawaz Sharif is to make the Pervaiz Musharraf issue either strictly legal or purely political. At the moment he is trying to play it both ways; we are just following the orders of the court but my ministers are free to abuse him. In both the instances he wants other organs and individuals to do his bidding, like judges in the courts and Khwaja’s in his wings. But excluding personal ridicule, he wants to steer the matter as far away from the political domain as possible. So, the burden is mainly left for the judges to shoulder publically – and they are more than happy to do that.
This problem – the problem of judges being more loyal to the king than the king himself – raises the stakes to unacceptable or unreasonable levels. It is not just the treason trial that is bothering many inside and outside the army. The fact of the matter is that some judges hearing other cases against Pervez Musharraf don’t seem to be acting wisely and are bent upon his personal production in ‘their’ courts, come what may. This ‘come what may’ is easier said than done.
Firstly, both the Akbar Bugti and Lal Masjid/Ghazi Abdul Rashid cases cannot be termed as personal/individual matters against the person of Pervez Musharraf. Both have much broader contexts to be viewed in; one has Baloch ‘insurgency’ in its background while the other cannot be separated from the religious terrorism issue. Secondly, one fails to understand why every judge has made it a point to see Pervez Musharraf standing physically in the dock? It would have been all right in normal circumstances but the stakes here are really too high and may not be affordable for the state in the long run.
In both the cases the state, prima facie, moved in to establish the writ of the state. But whether right or wrong a former head of the state and the army chief shouldn’t be obliged to personal appearance on every date of hearing in the face of such grave threat to his and other human beings’ life and unless it is established that that decision in each case was made on personal whim. Circumstantial facts point to the opposite. A grand operation in Kalat area of Balochistan on Monday clearly shows that actions in Balochistan are state decisions (emanating from state policies) which cannot be attributed to one specific individual.
In general perception, the cases of Lal Masjid and that of the killing of Abdul Rashid are almost the other way round. It is another matter if the state cannot take action against the culprits due to its weakness and the judges out of meekness cannot give an adverse decision against those who had challenged state’s monopoly on violence. If the state and the judges cannot move against state’s rebels, that is one thing; if both of them are seen humiliating and bent upon condemning the one who stood guard in its defence, that’s quite another – and most ominous.
Ominous, because there will be no one tomorrow to stand for the cause of the state if judges are allowed, at the cost of the state and society, to make someone a scapegoat in those cases just to settle personal scores. Appear personally in Ghazi Abdul Rashid case or face arrest warrants! Doesn’t all this seem ridiculous, and just a mockery of law? Justified logically or not, wouldn’t it demoralize security personnel? The government cannot make accountable those who openly and in broad daylight arrogated to themselves the duties and powers of the state using the barrel of the gum in its capital. But its free and independent judiciary is risking the life of only one of those who dared stop the criminals – but who happened to be at the helm at that time.
This isn’t fair. And this will not auger well both for the state and the civil-military relationship within it. And this will send the wrong message out; to the outside world and to the terrorists who are waiting at the gates. But if one avoids the temptation of being a partisan even at this stage – and not declaring who is right and who is wrong – it will be stating the obvious that this situation will be harmful for the country.
Our response to the terrorists’ machinations will get ineffective, and guessing a house divided from within they will be emboldened further. The government has already compromised the larger interests of the society by entering into dialogue with terrorists. An in-house tussle will do the rest. Furthermore, we as a nation are faced with a great dilemma; if terrorist succeeded in harming Musharraf in anyway, it will not only mean a defeat of the state of Pakistan and its armed forces but then nothing will stop the war that its armed forces (if not the government) will be obliged to wage against the religious militants.
The world has changed and the army may not be able to dictate to the government it used to do in the past. It can’t just topple the government and get away with it. But that doesn’t mean the government is free to do whatever it likes. With freedom comes responsibility. Democracy does not come with the holding of one or two elections in 66 years. Nor does a government become physically strong when it is elected democratically. Yes, it enjoys more legitimacy compared to dictatorships. But the rest depends on performance. If a government is constantly seen as acting against the interests of the people and the society at large, it doesn’t take long to lose its legitimacy and being thrown away forcefully – even if that action legally entails trial under Article 6 at some future date.
The government at the moment is not listening to the saner element in society in matters relating to terrorism. It has ignored the menace of sectarianism in the country. It is not paying heed to the input from the armed forces in this regard. It is wittingly ridiculing its former chief politically. It is unwittingly humiliating him legally. And it is jeopardizing Musharraf’s life at the hands of ‘independent’ judges practically – excluding the special court which is conducting his trial in treason case and which has moved with utmost restraint and apparent fairness so far. Insistence of every judge on his personal appearance in other cases points to the fact that freedom may have come to the judges personally but it is not matched by the sense of responsibility which is its natural institutional corollary.
As for Nawaz Sharif, his family and friends, it’s better to remind them of an old Urdu adage which says that even shadows tend to depart when hard times come. We have this great presumption about him that he has learned his lesson well from past mistakes. In case he hasn’t then he must be told that all these ‘unity’ pledges will prove just mirages if he actually happened to reach there. And besides, who has pledged him support other than Asif Ali Zardari and PPP? But can he be stupid enough to forget that this will be an opportunity of a lifetime for the PPP, as a mainstream political party, to make amends with the establishment in case it decided to create political instability for the current government? And will the army hesitate even a moment to welcome it onboard keeping in view its disastrous experimentations with the religious and political right, the ‘good’ Taliban and the (former) playboy rightest, nationalist in the shape of former cricket players?