Musharraf’s exoneration was foregone, SC refuses to hear appeal against conviction

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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Supreme Court office has refused to hear an appeal, moved on behalf of former President Pervez Musharraf against his conviction in the high treason case. An informed source said on Friday, January 17, that the court office returned the appeal on the grounds that unless the petitioner surrenders himself, his plea cannot be entertained.

The counsel representing Musharraf is expected to file an appeal soon against the registrar’s decision to return the petition. On Thursday, Musharraf had moved the apex court, seeking to overturn the Islamabad-based special court’s December 17, 2019, verdict, which sentenced him to death in the high treason case.

Moved by Barrister Salman Safdar, the petition had pleaded that the verdict should be set aside since the trial was conducted and completed in sheer violation of the Constitution. The appeal also sought the right of audience before the Supreme Court in his physical absence as well as the suspension of the judgment in the interest of justice and fair play.

The December verdict was the first time in Pakistan’s history that a military chief was declared guilty of high treason and handed a death sentence, Dawn news reported.

Musharraf was sentenced to death six years after the trial started. The case was filed by the then PML-N government for suspending the Constitution on November 3, 2007, when the former leader imposed emergency in the country. He was hospitalised following the deterioration of his health last month.

According to legal and other observers, the exoneration of General Pervez Musharraf from the most serious treason charge is a non-event in Pakistan where the judiciary has now started flexing its muscles with the military, sidelining the political class.

Whatever stands, if at all, the Imran Khan Government might take on the Lahore High Court judgment of January 13, it would be an approving one. There is no way anyone will dare to appeal before the Supreme Court. 

Indeed, Additional Attorney General Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan who lost the case, but announced the verdict made it clear that “there is no other judgment” against Musharraf.  That should safely mean no appeal to it and the case is closed.

This marks closure of a chapter that Nawaz Sharif opened in 2013, soon after coming to power, to avenge the General who had toppled him from power way back in 1999. Prime Minister Imran Khan has reasons to smile because Sharif is disliked by the Army that has currently adopted the Khan to run the country. For both, Khan and his military mentors, Sharif is a hated man — got rid off from power, into jail and now exiled on medical grounds.

The case pertained to Musharraf declaring Emergency in 2007, sacking entire courts and much of the higher judiciary in his bid to surmount, however,  multiple pressures mounted by an angry judiciary since he had sacked the Chief Justice, the media, the lawyers and much of the elite and when he was forced to schedule elections,. Musharraf had to eventually quit office.

The verdict is that the entire process gone through by the Sharif Government, in ordering the trial, constituting a special court and much else was “unconstitutional all the way” and invalid since no cabinet decision existed. It is a moot point whether Sharif would have decided without consulting his cabinet of loyal ministers and erred on the procedures, unless someone from within sabotaged it. His party leaders may soon challenge this saying that the cabinet decision was indeed taken. But where are the documents to prove it? None, the court was told. Now, this does not matter, any more, anyway.

The verdict is out and it remains unclear why a case lingering for six years, for which Musharraf, now ailing in Dubai, had refused to come to defend himself, citing personal security as the reason, cropped up and a verdict was announced on December 17 last year. Even this does not matter anymore.

What is important is the response of the Army. This was the first case in Pakistan of a military general, that too, a former Chief and President, was convicted by a civilian court. The Army’s official reaction was that a man who had served the army for 40 years and had been the constitutional head of the country could not have committed treason.

Musharraf from his sick bed can be expected to express satisfaction and joy; the military, some happiness. The Khan government, already rushing through the legislative and executive processes to smoothen the path of the present Chief, Gen. Bajwa in getting a three-year extension, would heave a sigh of relief.

In Pakistan, it is business as usual between the military and the judiciary. The judiciary, after all, has in the past endorsed all military power seizures and declarations of each Martial Law, citing the contentious “theory of necessity.”  The politician in whose name the country’s democracy runs for the world to watch, remains where it is in Pakistan’s chime of things.