History is a continuous process and it passes its judgment on people, events, sociopolitical and economic processes and power management. The judgment of history comes slowly but it is a fairer and more enduring evaluation than the one given by the people in power.
In countries like Pakistan, where the basic parameters of governance and power management are not fully shared by the key social and political players and personal and partisan considerations are high, the dominant elite tend to spend considerable energy in rectifying what they view as wrongdoings of the past. They want to force a judgment of their choice on history.
In Pakistan, society in general and the rulers in particular, cannot get over their past. They seek the solutions of the present and future problems either by strictly sticking to the past or by rectifying what they view as injustices of the past rather than addressing the problems of the present time. Some want to settle the scores of the past by pursing the retribution theory of punishment, making a horrible example of the adversaries of the past.
When Nawaz Sharif assumed the office of prime minister as the PML-N leader, there was a lot of hope that his government would ensure better governance and address the socio-economic problems of the people. This was based on the promises that the PML-N leaders made to the voters. They vowed to replace what they described as the corrupt, inefficient and directionless PPP government and that they would assign a high priority to addressing the problems of the economy, electricity and gas shortages, law and order and terrorism, and seek respect in the international community.
The new federal government soon realised that it faces a graver crisis of governance and politico-economic management than what it had thought before coming to power. While its political agenda was getting tampered with by political and economic realities, the PML-N government decided to initiate high treason proceedings against former president Pervez Musharraf. Two days later, the federal government announced that it was exploring the option of reviving the money laundering cases against the sitting President, Asif Ali Zardari, whose presidency is coming to an end in early September 2013.
In purely constitutional and legal terms, there appears to be a case of high treason against Pervez Muhsarraf. The federal government can advance many arguments to show that it was pursuing a constitutional obligation and that a government with a strong popular mandate must prosecute Pervez Musharraf to deter other generals from engaging in political adventurism.
It is naive to think that the Musharraf treason case can be kept as a purely constitutional and judicial matter. It is bound to have political implications because it relates to the politics of Pakistan. Currently, most political parties are supporting the government on this issue. However, as the case proceeds and its political fallout unfolds, this support will dwindle. Every political party will respond to the case proceedings from the point of view of its partisan interest.
The PML-N has already lost the support of the PPP by threatening to reopen the money laundering cases against President Zardari. This will lead to an open confrontation between the two parties which will be a new front in addition to the PML-N’s fight against Pervez Musharraf.
The federal government needs to satisfy the political circles and domestic and foreign observers on three counts. First, Nawaz Sharif was dislodged from power in a coup staged by General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999. Nawaz Sharif was also convicted of hijacking by a special court while General Musharaf headed the military government. Does this not create a personal reason for the PML-N to pursue the high treason case?
Second, a number of judges of the Supreme Court were adversely affected by Pervez Musharraf’s actions on March 9, 2007 and November 3, 2007 when they became non-functional temporarily. Is this background relevant today?
Third, why is the constitutional provision of high treason being applied only to the November 3, 2007 incident? The amended Article 6 by the Eighteenth constitutional Amendment provides a basis to take up the coup of October 1999. (Perhaps, the 1977 coup as well). Will the high treason case be confined to Musharraf only or will those aiding and abetting also be taken into account?
The domain of the Musharraf case is expected to expand and disturb in more than one way, the delicate civil-military relations. The military will be perturbed if the case becomes an opportunity for the political elite and media to malign the top brass or if some serving and retired senior officers are dragged in the case.
Any disturbance in civil-military relations will be destabilising. During the PPP government’s tenure (2008-2013), the controversies on the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Law (September-October 2009) and the Memo issue (2011-2012) show that if tensions develop between the military and the civil government, the latter faces serious difficulties. Many political and societal forces increase their opposition to the federal government or side with the military.
The political future of the PML-N government will not be determined by the conviction of Pervez Musharraf and the reopening of the cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. What matters most for the political future of the PML-N is its performance as the federal government in terms of reviving the faltering economy, overcoming electricity and gas shortages, coping with the escalating violence and terrorism and the delivery of civic services to people.
The latest heavy mandate of the PML-N is going to be relevant up to December this year. Beyond that, the legitimacy of the PML-N federal and Punjab governments will be determined by their performance. Therefore, the PML-N should conserve its political energy and focus it on serving the people rather than fighting wars of the past. Let history pass its judgment on Pervez Musharraf.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2013.
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