When it comes to leading Pakistan, there has always been an unhealthy competition between the military and the civilian leaders. Seventy-two years old Pakistan has been ruled by the military commanders half the time and this says a lot about the nature of politics tainted by blood and vengeance while keeping the people out of foci.
In the history of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf seemed like just one more military chief who became a dictator after toppling the elected government of Nawaz Sharif in 1999. Although Musharraf was not the first military chief to seize the power in a coup, he has become the first military dictator of Pakistan to face a death sentence for "treason" after Tuesday's court verdict.
In the past centuries, Pakistan imprisoned and hanged many of its civilian leaders. But the country's military dictators, often accused of leading the country to its present predicament, have always enjoyed impunity. Tuesday's court verdict has thus been unprecedented.
As per the conviction, this former military ruler was found guilty of "high treason" and the Peshawar High Court handed him a death sentence under Article 6 of the constitution. According to the Article 6 of Pakistan's Constitution, "Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or hold in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution by use of force or show force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason."
The conviction focuses on the former president's suspension of the constitution in 2007. Musharraf suspended the constitution in 2007 in a bid to restrain political unrest and declared a state of emergency that lasted for years. Parvez Musharraf, however, couldn't stay in power for long.
In the conviction, the verdict was split 2-1, the Dawn reports. This treason trial has been an explosive political issue in Pakistan, which caused an escalation of tension between military and the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before he was forced out of office after the court verdict.
After Imran Khan came to power in 2018, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has maintained good terms with the military. As a result, Khan's government had the least interest in continuing the treason trial initiated by the Pakistan Muslim League (N) government.
But court delivered the verdict anyway, and the military is not very happy about it. The military leadership of Pakistan rejected the verdict and came out strongly in support of the former dictator.
As a result, the PTI government, in a bid to maintain good terms with the military, has announced to assess the range of legal options in support of the fallen dictator for the "national interest".
The current government, however, has fewer options other than pursuing the cause of legal options in Musharraf's defence as the military spokesperson Asif Ghafoor announced in a strongly worded statement that the "constitutional and legal requirements were not fulfilled in the case."
The All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), the political party founded by Musharraf, announced that it would appeal against the verdict because, as they said in a statement, the case against Musharraf "was formed on flimsy grounds, where aiders and abettors were excluded from the case and its hearing and the former president was singled out in the high treason case."
The treason trial was speculated to never reach the verdict because of the alleged resistance from the army and apathy of the PTI government to continue to trial. The proceedings of the case got more complicated after Musharraf left the country in 2016. In his absence, the court declared him an absconder. Despite the PTI government's requests to postpone the trial, the court took a dramatic move last month to go ahead with the trial.
Now the verdict has only worsened the predicament of the PTI government. Although the government has announced to appeal in defence of Musharraf, but to appeal against the conviction, Musharraf needs to be present in person which is largely improbable.
From resignation to justice
After Musharraf suspended constitution and imposed a state of emergency following massive protests in November 3, 2007, his days were numbered. According to a leaked WikiLeaks data, Musharraf stepped down in 2008 only after the US guaranteed him indemnities.
According to a Dawn article, after Asif Ali Zaridari of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) came in power after the elections of 2008, the PPP government indemnified Musharraf for any unlawful act as part of the promise it made to the United States.
But the situation changed after Nawaz Sharif returned in power in 2013 as prime minister. Nawaz Sharif actually had every reason to settle scores with a man with old issues. Consequently, a case of treason was filed against Musharraf. Sharif's government, however, covered the lawsuit as a compliance to the Supreme Court ruling.
Zahid Hussain, a Pakistani journalist, finds it "interesting" that Musharraf was not convicted "for his "original sin" of staging a coup against an elected government."
Instead of holding him accountable for the coup, the Supreme Court held him responsible for "the constitution in abeyance" in 2007. According to Hussain, the "argument for not charging Musharraf over the coup was that the Supreme Court and parliament indemnified his action."
Since the beginning of this trial, the military has always been in support of its fallen demagogue. In 2015, the Pakistani military announced to "preserve its own dignity and institutional pride" in reference to the treason trial. Similarly, after the verdict, the army again released strong-worded statement in defence of Parvez Musharraf.
History of military and court interference in Pakistani politics
From 1950 to 1960, Pakistan had six prime ministers, all of whom had been sacked by the military-civil bureaucratic establishment.
Military commanders Ayyub Khan, Yahya Khan and General Zia ruled Pakistan almost all of the cold war period. The Pakistani politicians of that period suffered.
Former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came to power in 1971 after a long military tenure. Bhutto, however, couldn't serve for long. He was ousted by General Zia. Bhutto was eventually hanged to death in 1979 amid international outcry.
General Zia continued his tenure until he died along with an American ambassador in a plane crash in 1988. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter Benazir Bhutto was elected the prime minister of Pakistan in 1988 after Zia's death. But she also was forced out of office in 1990 on charges of "incompetence and corruption".
Nawaz Sharif served as Prime Minister from 1990 to 1993 and was forced out by military. The 1993 election brought Benazir back to power but she was again forced out of office in 1996 as President Farooq Leghari fired her for "nepotism". Nawaz, after winning election in 1997, came to power. But Nawaz was again ousted by the military in 1999. In the October of 1999, Parvez Musharraf seized power in a coup. He ruled Pakistan until 2008. In February 2008, civilian government reinstated with Gilani as the prime minister. Meanwhile, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007.
Pakistan's Supreme Court disqualified Gilani in 2012. Raja Parvej Ashraf became the new prime minister in 2012 after Gilani was fired. Then, in January 2013, Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf over corruption allegations dating back to his time as a minister in 2010. The last of such ouster was again Nawaz Sharif when he was forced to leave premiership in 2017 over charges of corruption.