Why did PML-N let Musharraf go?
Despite eight years of civilian rule, retired generals still remain much more powerful than elected prime ministers.
Those who had anticipated the former military dictator lingering behind bars, for monopolising power through unlawful acts for nearly a decade, are reminded of Manto’s masterpiece, Naya Qanoon. The story was written during the British rule in India in the midst of the promise of limited government under the Indian Act of 1935. Ustad Mangu, an ordinary, disillusioned tonga driver in Lahore attempted to test the new law by responding to racial discrimination. Mangu was arrested for beating an English man but kept screaming,
“New constitution, Naya Qanoon!”
The police retorted,
“What nonsense are you talking? What Naya Qanoon? It’s the same old constitution, you fool.”
Mangu was then locked up.
In 2013, Pakistan witnessed its first ever successful democratic transition of power. With this transition, the muscle-flexing by different institutions, in particular the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister showing determination to preserve its independence, and commitment to the rule of law had created a new hope that the old politics of expediency and the Doctrine of Necessity will shun forever. However, with Musharraf’s exit, sadly the old power politics have once again come to the forefront to eclipse the rule of law.
It is ironic that the party that boasts, in its election manifesto, to have courageously fought the martial law regime of Musharraf, has now provided a safe passage for the former military dictator. What is most unfortunate is that, it has been done at a time when a new culture of accountability is gradually emerging in Pakistan. Since the judges’ struggle against Musharraf’s rule, the judiciary has earned an unprecedented independence and a stature. This emergence of historical judicial power within the political setup draws its legitimacy from the support of civil society, the media, political parties and global legal community – all stand vehemently in favour of holding those accountable who have experimented with the constitution for decades. By allowing Musharraf to go abroad, apparently for health-related reasons, and escape trial, PML-N has seriously dented the cause of rule of law in Pakistan.
Similarly, the trial of the former dictator was important to shape the future direction of Pakistan. It could expedite the on-going political process towards democratic transition. However, due credit must be given to the current government for at least initiating the trial that has culminated in charging, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, a former army chief for his misadventures. By letting Musharraf go half-way, shows PML-N’s weakness and exposes the limits of civilians and judiciary. The biggest tragedy of this entire episode is the fact that though Pakistan has come eight years down the road of civilian rule, retired generals still remain much more powerful than elected prime ministers and a ‘free, independent’ judiciary!