Make an example of Musharraf? By Talib Lashari


On 31 July, Pakistan's Supreme Court announced that former President General Pervez Musharraf's decision to impose emergency rule in November 2007 was unconstitutional, and police filed a report against him on 10 August for unlawful detention of Supreme Court judges, whom he had detained in an attempt to prevent them from making this ruling earlier.
This is an important juncture for democracy in Pakistan. The judiciary has reinforced the supremacy of the constitution and, in so doing, has taken a first step toward blocking future supra-constitutional acts.
Musharraf now risks arrest and trial for treason under Article 6 of the constitution, which criminalises any act or conspiracy to subvert the constitution by use or show of force. The Supreme Court has asked the parliament to vote on whether Musharraf should be tried, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani recently said that the government would support a trial only if the National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution.
The stakes are high. The proposed trial has the potential to create rifts in Pakistan's allied government, which could harm the democratic process in Pakistan. At the same time, not trying Musharraf means not setting a precedent for future aspirants of military rule.
The implications of putting a former military dictator on trial are significant, especially given Pakistan's history of military influence and rule. It could also mean trials for officials Musharraf consulted before imposing emergency rule, including politicians and active members of the military and civil service.
These complications are compounded by the fact that one of Musharraf's former allies, the United National Movement (MQM), is also an ally of the newly formed government, but is opposed to putting Musharraf on trial.
This is creating tension within the government alliance comprised of the ruling Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP), MQM, the leftist National Awami Party, Assembly of Islamic Clergy (JUI) and the Pakistan Muslim League-F (PMLF).
The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PMLN), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, claims the trial is necessary to show that no one is above the law or the constitution. The PMLN's push for a trial is also understandable given that it was during its term in office that Musharraf exacted the 1999 coup and exiled then-Prime Minister Sharif to Saudi Arabia.
To prevent further tensions from arising, Gilani announced recently that neither the government nor the military would pose obstacles to Musharraf's trial. Yet, by requiring a unanimous resolution in parliament, the government appears to want to avoid any friction by initiating the trial.
If the parliament does manage to pass a resolution for Musharraf's trial, which seems unlikely given that it requires a unanimous vote, it should be guided by the principles laid out in the Charter of Democracy, an agreement between the PPP and the PMLN.
Signed by Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto in London in May 2006, the Charter clearly establishes a code of conduct for politicians: "We shall not join a military regime or any military sponsored government. No party shall solicit the support of military to come into power or to dislodge a democratic government." It also states that the 1973 constitution—scrapped after Musharraf's coup—should be restored and the 17th constitutional amendment repealed.
This amendment was added to the constitution in 2003 during Musharraf's rule. It sanctioned his next five years as president and gave the president the power to dissolve the National Assembly. Repealing this amendment would be a step towards strengthening Pakistan's parliamentary democracy.
Democracy in Pakistan is struggling to stay afloat with increased militancy and its history of dictatorships. However, there are signs that it may yet endure: an empowered civil society—demonstrated by the accomplishments of free media, the Lawyer's Movement, free and fair elections and an allied government.
Pushing for Musharraf's trial without a proper strategic framework for democracy in place and pitting the various factions in the government against each other could upset the delicate conditions necessary for rule of law to take hold in Pakistan. The prudent course might instead be for Pakistan's institutions and various branches of government to work together to strengthen the constitution and institute preventative measures barring future military intervention in the country's politics.


* Dr. Talib Lashari is an Islamabad-based political analyst. This article first appeared in Cleveland, Ohio's The Plain Dealer and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews

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