The Pulse

Pervez Musharraf Trial: A Gimmick Masked in Legalese?

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The Pulse

Pervez Musharraf Trial: A Gimmick Masked in Legalese?

The trial of the former president and Army chief is unlikely to be the turning point many Pakistanis seek.

When Anatol Lieven, Chair of International Relations and Terrorism Studies at King’s College London, was mulling over a title for his most recent work, he initially floated the idea to his publisher of calling the book, Pakistan: A Negotiated State. He later explained that if he has found any axiom
of Pakistani politics, it’s that everything centers around some form of agreement reached only after a bout of negotiations.

After former President Pervez Musharraf’s recent indictment over multiple charges were read, many political analysts in Pakistan reached the obvious conclusion, namely that of a negotiated settlement in which Musharraf, who was previously Chief of Army Staff, finds safe passage in a Gulf state. Their response was appropriate. Musharraf's indictment on the spectrum of punishment will on the lower baseline be an ineffective wrist slap to the Army, and on the higher end, knock the Army a peg or two from its high perch. But the conclusion of his trial will not go nearly as far as Pakistanis hope.

First, there is no precedent in Pakistan’s history to suggest that a military chief will be tried under the rule of law and subsequently charged as his conduct would merit. For example, the Supreme Court of Pakistan recently ruled that General Mirza Aslam Beg, another former Chief of Army Staff, consorted with elements of the Inter­Services Intelligence in funneling money during the 1990 election season to opposition parties, in the hope of thwarting the advance of the liberal Pakistan People’s Party. Even after the Supreme Court recognized this blatant disruption of the democratic process, the case ended with pin drop silences across the judiciary.

Second, it would not be unlike the Army to protest the trial of a former four-star general as an affront to the reputation of arguably the most stable institution in Pakistan. While the current Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani said in 2008 that the Army would refrain from meddling in civilian matters, the Army’s history of interventions into civilian affairs makes that promise hard to believe. Add to that the fact that the chief prosecutor working on Musharraf’s case was assassinated earlier this summer, and there is evidence to suggest that elements within the establishment are actively working in Musharraf’s favor. Given that Kayani’s term as COAS is coming to a close, it should give observers all the more reason to believe that a sensitive transition—one free from the events that may be sparks of further instability—is underway.

Lastly, there is little evidence to implicate Pervez Musharraf in the murder of Benazir Bhutto. In a scathing 5,000 word essay in Foreign Affairs, Getting Away with Murder,” the United Nation’s special investigator into Bhutto’s assassination, Heraldo Munoz, concluded that while there is every reason to believe that evidence in the Bhutto assassination was tampered with, the prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to “constitute proof of culpability.” Moreover, an argument on the basis of Musharraf’s failure to provide Bhutto with the necessary security—and that too, on the testimony of a U.S.­based lobbyist, Mark Siegel—does not hold the juridical standard of proof that would be admissible in the highest court of the land.

Overcoming the charges of having facilitated the murder of Bhutto wasn’t the only charge leveled against the former Army General. Musharraf also faces a treason charge on the grounds of having subverted the constitution by sacking the judiciary and subsequently imposing a state of emergency in 2007. While this will be near impossible to disprove on his end, there is reason to believe that a back door plea bargain will be drawn up for a safe passage into exile. Najam Sethi, editor of the Friday Times and most recently the interim chief minister of the powerful province of Punjab, recently commented on the treason charge, noting that it is safe to assume that the Saudis will provide the safe passage to Musharraf because of their “powerful vested interest in remaining close to the Pakistan army that secures the defence of Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf in more ways than one.”

Musharraf’s trial will not mark the watershed moment that many in Pakistan are hoping for. Hands will be greased, and envelopes will be pushed. Ultimately, the process will be a gimmick masked in legalese. In the end, Pakistan will muddle along, just as it has for the five years since Musharraf’s near-decade of iron­fisted rule came to an end.

Hamza Mannan is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in The Express Tribune, Asia Times Online, and The International News.