Features | Politics | South Asia

What Does the Musharraf Verdict Mean for Pakistan?

The sentencing to death of Musharraf has been welcomed by many Pakistanis.

Muhammad Akbar Notezai
What Does the Musharraf Verdict Mean for Pakistan?

Supporters of former Pakistani military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf protest a court’s decision, in Lahore, Pakistan, Dec. 22, 2019.

Credit: AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary

Waris runs a tea shop is Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province. On a calm Friday in December, he was busy making tea and talking to two regular customers about the Musharraf verdict – a death sentence handed down against the former dictator and military ruler, retired General Pervez Musharraf, who was found guilty of treason.

Waris welcomed the verdict. He said Musharraf, among other things, had derailed the country from the path of peace, prosperity, and development.  Waris suggested that Musharraf be hanged so that a new era may begin in Pakistan.

But Waris, an ethnic Punjabi with little education, had no knowledge as to why Musharraf was sentenced. Nor had he read the detailed judgment in Musharraf’s treason case in the media. To Waris’ knowledge, everything bad that has happened in Pakistan happened under Musharraf’s tenure. This, not any legal questions over the sanctity of the constitution, is why Waris suggested that the former dictator be hanged.

In its judgment, the special court directed law enforcement to apprehend Musharraf, who is currently receiving medical treatment in Dubai, to ensure the death sentence is carried out. It further stated that if Musharraf is found dead beforehand, “his corpse [should] be dragged to D-Chowk, Islamabad, Pakistan, and be hanged for three days.”

It was the first time in Pakistan’s history that a court sentenced a former military ruler to death (in absentia) for treason. Like Waris, other Pakistanis have welcomed the verdict, despite the fact that Pakistan’s current government and military have reacted negatively.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

The charges against Musharraf stem from his 2007 imposition of emergency rule and suspension of the country’s constitution. At the time, he had been ruling Pakistan since 1999 after staging a military coup.

The sentence is unlikely to be carried out against Musharraf, as he is currently not in the country. In 2016, he was allowed to leave Pakistan on medical grounds and it is unlikely that he will come back to the country to face the death sentence. Despite that, independent Pakistani analysts are of the view that for Pakistan, which has been ruled by the military for much of its history, the Musharraf verdict is a good step toward a true democracy. To this day, the military is calling the shots in the country, and it has never hesitated to brand critical politicians and journalists as “traitors,” accusing them of furthering foreign agendas in Pakistan. This time, a special court itself sentenced Musharraf, a former military ruler, in a high treason case.

In Pakistan, Musharraf is generally the most loathed leader after former dictator General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88), who pushed Pakistan into backwardness by introducing religious fundamentalism in the country. Zia helped the Mujahideen fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan with the financial support of the United States and Saudi Arabia,

Decades later, Musharraf reluctantly joined the United States in 2001 for its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a conflict that still continues today. Due to Musharraf’s short-sighted policies, Pakistan was pushed into the Afghan quagmire. The country has witnessed attack after attack, in which tens of thousands of Pakistanis have reportedly lost their lives. Today, religious extremism is the biggest threat to Pakistan’s security.

In Balochistan, Musharraf ordered a fifth military operation, which killed Balochistan’s former chief minister and governor Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006. That, in turn, fueled the fifth Baloch insurgency in Balochistan. The killing of Akbar Bugti created deep mistrust between Balochs and the state of Pakistan, and they are still at loggerheads with each other. The conflict between the Balochs and state is still ongoing in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province.

Musharraf resigned the presidency in 2008, unpopular and facing impeachment changes. He went into self-imposed exile until August 14, 2010, when he  formed his own political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League. The name of the party was taken from the original All Pakistan Muslim League, which struggled in an undivided India for a separate Muslim country.

After the formation of his own All Pakistan Muslim League, Musharraf arrived in Pakistan to contest the general elections in 2013. Accompanied by his wife, Sehba Musharraf, he was welcomed at Karachi Airport by a handful of supporters. But instead of continuing his political activities, he had to live under tight security in Pakistan. The courts barred him from standing in the elections, and then he became embroiled in several legal cases, including one over the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Meanwhile, Musharraf’s opponent, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, won the general elections in 2013. Musharraf had toppled Sharif’s then-government in a military coup in 1999. Shortly after winning election once again in 2013, Sharif initiated a treason trial against Musharraf. Facing increasing pressure from the establishment, Sharif allowed Musharraf to leave the country. Since then, the former general has not returned to Pakistan.

In the past, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), have been critical of Musharraf. Before coming into power in 2018, the PTI leadership lambasted Musharraf for bringing the country to the verge of destruction. But this is no longer the case. Critics tend to argue that Khan assumed office as prime minister in 2018 due to his party’s kowtowing to the military establishment. This is why, they further argue, Khan and his party’s tone on Musharraf is now same as the establishment’s. The Khan government even complained following the verdict that Musharraf was not given the right to a “fair trial.”

After the Musharraf verdict, differences have developed between the two institutions of the country: the army and judiciary. In a previous sign of tensions, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had ordered that the current Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Qamar Javed Bajwa’s three year extension needed the approval of the Parliament.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

In the past, Musharraf himself was forced to resign as president following his dismissal of then-Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudry. At the time, a lawyers’ protest had turned into a movement that finally resulted in the ouster of General Pervez Musharraf in 2008.

Once again, the military and judiciary are currently at loggerheads due to recent developments. The army reacted angrily to Musharraf’s verdict, saying in a statement that someone who served for over 40 years and fought wars in the defense of the country “can surely never be a traitor.”

The verdict has “been received with lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of Pakistan armed forces,” the statement from military spokesman General Asif Ghafoor said, noting the military expects justice will be dispensed in line with the constitution. “The due legal process seems to have been ignored.”

Whatever may happen in the near future, the Musharraf verdict has been welcomed by many Pakistanis, let alone the archrivals of General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. The verdict clearly suggests that no one is above the law in the “land of the pure” — anyone, including General Pervez Musharraf, can be sentenced to death for suspending the constitution in Pakistan. This is why, by and large, Pakistanis are optimistic about the Musharraf verdict.