Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif once and for all laid to rest speculation about the fate of former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf.
The retired general, who returned from four years of self-imposed exile in March, has been under house arrest at his plush farmhouse on the edge of Islamabad since April 19. He has been facing a slew of charges, including the proclamation of emergency rule on November 3, 2007 when he suspended the Constitution and put superior court judges under house arrest.
“We strongly believe that holding the Constitution in abeyance amounts to high treason under Article 6 of the Constitution,” the premier told lawmakers in the National Assembly on Monday. “Musharraf is accountable for his deeds,” he added.
Then army chief Pervez Musharraf had seized power after overthrowing the government of then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a military coup on October 12, 1999, and continued to rule the country until 2008 when he stepped down to escape a possible impeachment.
Nawaz called the overthrow of his government ‘unconstitutional’ but did not say if the former dictator would face a treason case for the coup also. He assured the house that his government would proceed in accordance with the law and would take parliament into confidence “so that the collective will of the people of Pakistan is duly reflected in the process”.
The premier told the lawmakers that his government fully subscribed to the Sindh High Court verdict that Musharraf’s 2007 actions came under the purview of high treason.
He endorsed a Senate resolution on the issue and said that then his party was in opposition. “Now, our party is in power and it wishes to ensure further steps required to be taken by it are not blurred,” he added.
Premier Nawaz lauded the previous government, led by Pakistan Peoples Party, for not giving indemnity to Musharraf’s 2007 actions. At the same time, he credited his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, for defying ‘immense pressure’ to indemnify the same ‘unconstitutional acts’.
The judiciary was attacked, the media was strangled and the same year judges were put under house arrest, Nawaz said. Most of Pakistan’s problems are a result of deviation from the Constitution.
“As the prime minister I’m under oath to preserve and protect the Constitution,” he said and reminded the lawmakers that the Pakistani nation has given sacrifices for democracy and always sided with democratic forces against dictators. “The future of the country lies in democracy,” he added.
House supports Nawaz
All but one opposition party assured Premier Nawaz of their support. Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmad questioned the rationale behind the government’s move. “I ask if the time is appropriate for another confrontation,” he said.
He asked the government to also apply Article 6 on the October 12, 1999 actions, if it was indeed serious. “Why not October 1999 which was at the root of the problem,” said Rashid.
On a sarcastic note, he asked if the ‘Musharraf question’ has been troubling Nawaz as he was looking relieved today. “It seems Nawaz has got rid of some burden that reflects on his face today,” he said. “Look back and you’ll find that forebears of many politicians were the products of dictatorship.”
Khursheed Shah, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, congratulated Premier Nawaz on taking the decision and assured him of PPP’s support. He called for the removal of pictures of all dictators from the lobbies of government buildings.
“Such people have no space in the houses elected by the people of Pakistan,” Shah said. “Move ahead so that no dictator dare abrogate the Constitution in the future,” he asked Nawaz. He lauded the prime minister for taking parliament into confidence.
PML-Zia chief Ejazul Haq, however, triggered a verbal clash with PPP lawmakers by calling former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto a ‘civil martial law administrator’ and demanded that all past dictators be tried for treason.
His remarks provoked an angry response from PPP lawmakers who tried to interrupt his speech. They said Gen Ziaul Haq, Ejaz’s father, was responsible for all the country’s ills.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, while commenting on the verbal duel, said that parliament should send out a good signal and avoid such confrontations that negate the democratic spirit.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Deputy Parliamentary Leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi assured Prime Minister Nawaz that his party would support every step of the government taken for the supremacy of the Constitution. He asked the government to keep parliament abreast of all possible political implications of the decision.
Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai described Nawaz’s decision as a step in the right direction. This should not be seen as a victory for one institution and the defeat of another, he added. “We want our army and intelligence agencies work in accordance with the Constitution in running the country.”
Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Abdul Wasim, Jamiat-e-Ullema Islam-Fazl leader Akram Khan Durrani and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami’s Sahibzada Tariqul Hassan also supported Nawaz on his decision to try Musharraf for treason.
Any trial could put the civilian government at loggerheads with the powerful army, which vehemently opposes the prospect of its former chief facing the courts in the country. It also threatens to sabotage the chances of a quiet deal that Musharraf’s legal team had hoped would allow the 69-year-old to win bail and quietly leave the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2013.