A milestone in Pakistan’s history

A milestone in Pakistan’s history

The sentencing to death of former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf for high treason is a milestone in Pakistan’s history. This is the first time that a military ruler has been held accountable for his actions while he was in power. Musharraf, who came to power through a coup in 1999, was accused of subverting Pakistan’s Constitution in 2007 when he declared a state of emergency in the country. Facing impeachment, Musharraf stepped down a year later. Then in 2014, in a first for Pakistan, Musharraf was indicted on five charges, including subversion, suspension and changing of the country's Constitution. The Pakistan military has ruled for most decades since the country came into being in 1947. Even during years of civilian rule, it is the generals who call the shots. In a country where the military has never been questioned over its actions, a general being hauled before the courts is momentous. Not only was Musharraf put on trial, but he has also been convicted and sentenced. For the military, which has often projected itself as the best custodian of Pakistan’s interests and has sought to justify its coups claiming that they were necessary for the good of Pakistan, a general being convicted for treason is a stinging slap on the face.

The military is unlikely to take this verdict lightly. It has made that clear already by rejecting the court order and coming out in support of the former army chief. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s determined effort to put Musharraf on trial drew the military’s ire and was among the reasons for Sharif’s frayed ties with the generals. The military sought to halt the trial, as did the Imran Khan government. However, the judiciary stood its ground. It deserves applause.

The sentence is unlikely to be implemented for several reasons. For one, Musharraf can appeal the court ruling and the verdict could go his way in the higher courts. Besides, the military can be expected to subvert the judicial process. Also, Musharraf is not in Pakistan now but lives in Dubai. Although he needs to be present in person to file an appeal, he is unlikely to return home to do so. Even if Musharraf’s trial is not taken to its logical conclusion, this is a historic verdict. The judiciary has signalled that it is willing to take on the military and is no pushover. The verdict marks the assertion of the judiciary in Pakistan’s politics. The generals have often stated in the past that they will not tolerate “humiliation” of the military. They are unlikely to suffer quietly the damage to their image. All eyes will now turn to the generals’ next move.

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