I, for one, am glad that General Musharraf was allowed to leave the country

Published: July 25, 2016
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Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf left the country on March 18, 2016, after the Supreme Court lifted a three-year ban on him travelling abroad, airport sources confirmed to AFP. PHOTO: PHILIP HOLLIS

It is embarrassing to admit it but when General Musharraf took over in 1999 through a bloodless military coup, one did support the aims and objectives he laid down in his famous seven point address. I, as a 19-year-old living abroad, was particularly thrilled by Musharraf’s invocation of Kemal Ataturk because I felt that only a military man like him could undo the damage done to Pakistan by General Ziaul Haq’s military regime in the 80s. All our hopes were dashed slowly but surely during the decade of Musharraf’s rule.

The lesson to be learnt is that military rule follows its own logic and its own institutional interests. It does not deliver the nation from antediluvian notions and measures undertaken by previous governments, military or civilian. This is why even the worst democracy is better than the best military dictatorship. Democracy, in whatever form, if allowed to work does ultimately evolve to a point where people’s interest becomes paramount.

The failed coup in Turkey has underscored this fact. People came out in droves to support their embattled president precisely because they had realised over a decade that democracy has its dividends. The same realisation, one is sorry to say, has not seeped through in our society yet. This is precisely why we must do all we can to ensure that the democratic set up is sustained by hook or by crook. And this is precisely why, paradoxically, one was glad that General Musharraf was allowed to leave the country instead of going through ignominy of facing the court for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution.

That General Musharraf held the constitution in abeyance and therefore interrupted the constitutional order not once but twice is an undeniable fact. Any fair and impartial court would find him guilty on this count. However, such a verdict is likely to open a Pandora’s Box for the democratically elected government, which I fear democratic forces are not ready to confront. The military has rebuilt its reputation after the successful Zarb-e-Azb operation.

Simultaneously, democratic governments have not yet reached a point where the society at large will act as our brethren in Turkey did. Imran Khan let the cat out of the bag when he declared that if the army took over in Pakistan, people would distribute sweets. Coming days after the terrific resistance by Turkish people, this was a damning, if inadvertent, indictment of the mindset that continues to plague the nation.

Therefore, General Musharraf’s indictment, sentencing and logically the punishment itself are all grave provocations that may be seized upon by the military to undermine civilian rule. This is precisely what happened in 2014 with the dharna drama. As a result of the dharna drama, civilian government was forced to cede ground on many a front.

Then there is the obvious question of fairness.

Why must an ostensibly liberal coup maker face the trial while the crimes of the past committed by General Ziaul Haq’s regime continue to be ignored? A multitude of ordinances put in place by General Zia’s regime continue to be on the books, despite the 18th Amendment which sought to undo his legacy. On the legal side, our system does not allow for posthumous trials. Hence, no justice is available for General Ziaul Haq. Nor does our legal system allow for trials in absentia, a point made by Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel during the latest installment of the special court hearing on Musharraf.

This was the real point of the hearing and not, as it was reported in the media, the freezing of Musharraf’s bank accounts and the confiscation of his property ordered by the court. It would be interesting to see what property is actually in Musharraf’s name in Pakistan and what, if any, are the amounts in his bank accounts in Pakistan.

According to London based investigative journalist, James D Crickton, Musharraf has a bank account or bank accounts in Switzerland. It is likely that most if not all of Musharraf’s financial worth is buried in those accounts. The court’s decision therefore to freeze Musharraf’s bank accounts and confiscate his property is a face saving device. So long as Musharraf remains outside the country, his trial is impossible. Do not hold your breath for the government’s measures to extradite him. If the government is smart, it will let the status quo be.

The battle to redress the civil-military imbalance has to be fought as if it was on a chess board. Every move has to be analysed carefully, so as to avoid a checkmate for civilian rule in Pakistan. Nor can advocates for a democratic Pakistan appear to be too eager to checkmate the military for the fear that the latter may topple the chessboard and declare game over.

Meanwhile, democratic governments must work to realise their gains. They must ensure that the benefits of democratic governance become so obvious to the people that they no longer support military interventions. This would require forbearance and patience on part of the elected government, especially in its dealing with the opposition parties. Everyone must be made to feel that they have a stake in the continuation of constitutional rule.

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Yasser Latif Hamdani

Yasser Latif Hamdani

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He tweets as @theRealYLH (twitter.com/therealylh)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.