Akram Sheikh, prosecutor in the Musharraf treason trial.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]kram Sheikh is the special prosecutor appointed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to try former Pakistani president and Army chief Pervez Musharraf for treason—for the sacking and detention of some 60 judges through a proclamation of emergency on Nov. 3, 2007. We spoke with the lawyer recently about the controversial trial in Islamabad and his motivations. Excerpts:
You were recently quoted in the national press as saying that the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency has threatened you to drop the case against Musharraf. Are you in danger?
No, I never said that the incumbent secret agencies were threatening me. What I meant was that former members of the ISI and Military Intelligence, who are now working as mercenaries for Musharraf, are threatening my family and me. But I will not divulge the names of these people or any further details. For now, I have taken all the relevant steps [for my safety] and have informed the concerned authorities. Listen, I couldn’t care two hoots about these warnings. I have not made any insinuations against the military establishment. I do not have any personal grievances against the ISI. The ones who concern me are those who were loyal to Musharraf while he was Army chief. They are intimidating me, pressurizing me to back out. What these people want is to create a situation where if any harm comes to me the blame would fall on the spy agencies, and that will in turn dent civil-military ties. As for me, my time is ordained. I will die when it is my turn. Until then I wish to continue this case. I have no regrets. This trial may be my last but it won’t be the least.
Why is this trial important to you?
I first decided to become a lawyer at the age of 9. This was a time when the dictator Ayub Khan had imposed martial law in the country. There were no televisions then. The radio would routinely broadcast painful cries of men being flogged—I remember clinging to my mother in fear. At that tender age, I made a commitment to fight against the atrocious system of military takeovers and of violations of the rule of law. It’s appalling, really. I studied English literature in school and I cannot think of a single word that adequately describes and condemns such heinous actions. Now at 64, I finally have an opportunity. Pakistan has suffered four coups and has lost more than half of this country. Today, I am a family man. I have grandchildren. I cannot think of a single place to move to if, God forbid, something happens to this country. The only hope of 180 million people [in Pakistan] is democracy; that is the only way forward. What I am doing today is no favor. I am just returning what this country has given to me over the years. I have not charged the government a single penny [for this case]. Even my health has been compromised. But all this does not mean I am personally or emotionally invested. Every lawyer dreams of such proceedings. It is epic, a history-making trial.
‘I have not made any insinuations against the military establishment. I do not have any personal grievances against the ISI.’
Does this trial threaten the civil-military equilibrium?
This case will not affect civil-military cooperation. It has no nexus whatsoever. Musharraf is a retired general. He is also now the leader of a political party. Hiding behind the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology [where he was rushed to on Jan. 2 on his way to court] will not do him any good. Neither will attempts to convince us that Pakistan’s armed forces have an understanding with him. There are many generals on trial today, senior generals who once served in the military. But they no longer represent the institution. Now that they have retired, they are ordinary citizens and are subject to the law.
Musharraf says he has the Army’s support. Is this false?
Absolutely, it is a preposterous and scandalous claim. There is no such collusion. Everyone who believes in the rule of law should condemn such statements with all vehemence. Article 244 of the Constitution clearly notes that the Army has no role to play in politics. Musharraf hopes to drag the Army into the treason proceedings. This is tantamount to mutiny, which is a separate offense altogether. What he is doing is inciting the armed forces to take a step against the government of Pakistan.
A treason conviction means death, unless the sentence is converted to life imprisonment by the president. How do you see this trial shaping events in Pakistan?
It is important that Musharraf receives justice. In the proceedings so far, he has not once denied committing the offense. He has categorically stated that he did impose emergency, but on the advice of others. Musharraf’s entire case is that he should not be tried alone—at least that is my understanding of it. But if he is indeed indicted, that can only be a positive. You see, ours is a unique Constitution. It has Article 6. Military rule aside, we have suffered one of the worst civilian governments under the presidency of Asif Ali Zardari. It was an era of corruption personified. But nonetheless I am glad that no one thought of aborting him. Zardari was shown the door by the people of Pakistan. The Army should not be dismissing and planting governments of their choice. This trial will be a trendsetter and will set an example.
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, former prime minister under Musharraf and one of Zardari’s coalition partners, has said that the 2007 proclamation of emergency was not one man’s decision and has offered himself for trial.
I was expecting him to engage Sen. S. M. Zafar and appear before the court himself. Look, there is a process for everything. The Federal Investigation Agency has no evidence against anyone else. If 20 people commit a crime, but you only have evidence against one, what will you do? You will only indict that one person. We have proof only against Musharraf. The Islamabad High Court in its proceedings had asked Musharraf to name the others involved. He can always enter his defense, have the ones who abetted him brought to court, and have the bench deal with them.
You and Musharraf’s counsels have had a few heated arguments inside and outside court.
Musharraf issued a false alarm of a heart attack, I am quoting the special court here. As prosecutor, I have refrained from engaging in any such squabbles. I was called all sorts of names by his lawyers in the courtroom. But I am a professional. I am not there to flex my muscles. I am not a wrestler. I am a senior counsel.
From our Jan. 25, 2014, issue.