Aug 12, 2009

Musharraf FIR

An FIR is only a first step towards a criminal prosecution and it remains to be seen if the former dictator will actually be prosecuted; nevertheless, it may signal the start of a dangerous confrontation between Mr Musharraf’s critics and those who supported his imposition of the emergency. As army chief, Mr Musharraf may have signed the Proclamation of Emergency and the Provisional Constitutional Order, 2007, but the text of the proclamation makes clear that he acted after the ‘situation [had] been reviewed in meetings with the prime minister, governors of all four provinces, and with Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Chiefs of the Armed Forces, Vice-Chief of Army Staff and Corps Commanders of the Pakistan Army’.

The proclamation also states that the emergency was imposed ‘in pursuance of the deliberations and decisions of the said meetings’. Logically, then, a trial of Mr Musharraf would open the door to the trial of those who advised him in their official capacities to impose the emergency and take the subsequent actions that he did. Could we be about to witness calls for the trial of other military and civilian high officials who supported Gen Musharraf (retd)?

Institutional support or not, however, there is no denying that were it not for Mr Musharraf’s own self-serving determination to cling to power come what may, the country’s political and constitutional framework would not have been damaged so badly. So there is some logic to the demand that at least Mr Musharraf, as the fountainhead of the last era of dictatorship, be held responsible for acts that clearly violated the constitution. But if that is in fact the course the country’s political spectrum wants to embark on, then it should also be prepared to deal with the potential impact on the current democratic dispensation.

It’s difficult to imagine Musharraf and his former supporters meekly surrendering themselves at the altar of justice. Since few in Pakistan can genuinely claim to have clean hands or an unambiguous record of opposing dictators, the question then is, should not the focus be on looking forward and sustaining the transition to democracy? The lesson of the Musharraf era, and of the dictators before him, is clearly that institutions need to be strengthened and imbued with a democratic spirit. That perhaps is where the nation’s energies should be focused.

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