An unusually circumspect Supreme Court resists the temptation to arrest Musharraf, at least for now.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday dismissed a demand for the immediate arrest of former president and Army chief Pervez Musharraf.
The bench comprising Justices Jawwad S. Khawaja and Khilji Arif Hussain is hearing five petitions clubbed together demanding Musharraf’s trial under Article 6 of the Constitution and the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973, for suspending the Constitution and imposing a state of emergency on Nov. 3, 2007, and ordering the arrests of some 60 judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
Two lawyers, A. K. Dogar and Hamid Khan, appearing on behalf of the plaintiffs had asked the court on Monday to order that Musharraf “be taken into custody to ensure that he remains available within the country.” They had also asked the court to direct the federal government for “initiation of legal proceedings” against Musharraf “and others.” (Under the Constitution, only the federal government can initiate treason proceedings.)
Musharraf, who did not personally appear in court, faces capital punishment if found guilty.
One of the former general’s lawyers, Ahmed Raza Kasuri, told the court that it was proceeding in haste and attempting to prevent his client from campaigning for the May 11 elections. He also said that the current Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, as well as the then federal cabinet had supported imposition of emergency rule. He demanded the court subpoena them. Kayani was the chief of the Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency when emergency was imposed.
The next hearing is scheduled for April 15.
In yesterday’s hearing, the court cited the resolution passed by the Senate last year on Jan. 23 demanding Musharraf’s arrest and treason trial. The court also noted that the federation “rather than initiating action against such persons and instead of acting in accordance with the resolution of the Senate … has, inexplicably, accorded treatment to [Musharraf] which is unusual and is normally provided to persons who are commonly referred to as VIPs.”
Musharraf returned to Pakistan on March 24 ending four years of self-imposed exile. He has been cleared to run for the National Assembly from Chitral. His election papers to also contest from Karachi, his hometown, and from Kasur in the Punjab have been rejected.
In addition to a host of lawsuits, Musharraf is confronting explicit threats from Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militant and separatist organizations. Al Qaeda attempted to assassinate him at least three times while he was president. On instructions from the courts, the Interior Ministry has barred him from leaving the country.
“These cases do not frighten me and I will fight all the cases in the court of law!” Musharraf stated yesterday on his Facebook page.
Musharraf came to power in October 1999, overthrowing the unpopular government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, now a leading contender to become the country’s next prime minister. Musharraf cannot be charged for the coup—which was popularly hailed—since it was validated both by the Supreme Court and the National Assembly elected in 2002.
Musharraf’s troubles began in March 2007, when he sacked the country’s top judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry. The Supreme Court reinstated Chaudhry in July following massive protests by lawyers and political parties. After the Chaudhry-led court began hearing cases that could void Musharraf’s 2007 reelection as president, the general declared a state of emergency and ordered the arrests of judges and political opponents.
Chaudhry and the other prisoners were released from house arrest in March 2008 by the then freshly-elected government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party. But it took the brute street strength of Sharif’s opposition Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) to have Chaudhry finally return to the court a year later. Soon after Chaudhry’s reinstatement, the Supreme Court declared Musharraf’s proclamation of emergency to have been “unconstitutional, illegal, mala fide, and void ab initio.” A year later, on Oct. 14, the Sindh High Court found Musharraf to “clearly” have been “the person who is responsible for abrogation and subversion of the Constitution.”