Finally, Pervez Musharraf surrenders
A defiant General Musharraf, who had been dodging his trial, unexpectedly appeared before the court and refused the charge of treason
After several months of ambiguity surrounding the case against the former military dictator, a Pakistani court on Monday finally indicted General Pervez Musharraf on charges of committing high treason for unconstitutionally dismissing judges and keeping them under illegal detention.
A defiant General Musharraf, who had been dodging his trial on the pretext of suffering from some undefined cardiac ailment, unexpectedly appeared before the court and refused the charge, calling it baseless.
Evading the law
He had been taking “refuge” inside an army-run modern coronary care hospital and dodging repeated orders from the court over the last seven months to appear in court and face the charges against him. In the previous hearing, the court finally ordered federal agencies to arrest him if he again refrained from appearing before the court.
Musharraf is considered as the main architect of U.S.-led NATO forces invasion of Afghanistan following 9/11 since he gave control of four key Pakistani airbases to U.S. forces which were used for launching nearly sixty thousand aerial attacks inside Afghanistan.Mansoor Jafar
The court also dismissed an application filed by Musharraf’s lawyers seeking permission to go to Dubai to see his elderly mother who was hospitalized in Sharjah for some serious pulmonary problems. The treason case is gaining worldwide attention for the precedent it will set on the balance of power between politicians and military. The case is also being seen through the lens of the traditional military-politician power tussle in the country.
Musharraf’s appearance in the court on Monday looked unlikely on the previous night when one of his lawyers told the media that the former army chief had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) following an unexpected surge in his blood pressure, a member of Musharraf’s team, Rana Ejaz, who was removed from appearance in the special court hearing the treason trial for his “contemptuous conduct,” was quoted as saying.
Prior to that, Musharraf’s legal team announced that they would boycott Monday’s proceedings for what they called a prejudiced conduct of the trial. The boycott announcement strengthened the speculation that Musharraf would once again dodge court appearance. So far, Musharraf had appeared before the court only one out of 35 hearings of the case.
Apart from that, Musharraf’s lawyers had been constantly requesting the court to exempt him from appearance in view of serious threats to his life for his role in war on terror and victimizing the Islamist elements in the country.
Musharraf and the invasion of Afghanistan
On November 3, 2007, General Musharraf imposed extra-constitutional emergency, dismissing all the judges of Supreme Court and High Courts, to pre-empt possible legal action against his unconstitutional rule as president of the country. Musharraf as chief of army staff took control of country after a military coup on Oct. 12, 1999, when the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dismissed him and appointed another general as army chief in his place who is still deprived of post-retirement benefits.
Musharraf is considered as the main architect of U.S.-led NATO forces invasion of Afghanistan following 9/11 since he gave control of four key Pakistani airbases to U.S. forces which were used for launching nearly sixty thousand aerial attacks inside Afghanistan. NATO forces were also allowed two main routes from Pakistan to supply arms and other logisticals. These supply routes are still used by NATO forces despite serious protests inside the country.
His major role in the U.S.-led war on terror earned him widespread unpopularity among the country’s religious quarters and during the following years he survived four assassination attempts. He was finally forced to relinquish the presidency in August 2008 after the then army chief Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani refused to protect him against the impeachment threat by Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.
Musharraf is accused of treason under Article 6 of Pakistan’s constitution for suspending, subverting and abrogating the rule of law by imposing an emergency in the country in November 2007 and detaining judges of the superior courts.
While denying the charge, the former president said, “Whatever I did, I did for the country and its people. I am sad that I am being called a traitor,” stated Musharraf, claiming that he made Pakistan a respectable country during his tenure.
“I honor this court and prosecution and I strongly believe in law. I don’t have ego problems, and I have appeared in court 16 times in this year in Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi,” the he said.
Musharraf further stated, “I am being called a traitor, I have been chief of army staff for nine years and I have served this army for 45 years. I have fought two wars and this is ‘treason?’”
“I am not a traitor. For me traitors are those who loot public money and empty the treasury,” he added.
Security measures at the special court were beefed up in anticipation of Musharraf’s appearance in court today, in compliance with an order issued on March 14, demanding his presence – enforced or voluntary – in the dock.
Islamabad police had covered their bases: a four-member committee was formed to escort the former president from the AFIC – where he has been admitted since Jan. 2 – to court. Security passes were issued to a select few only and a police team was formed to arrest the retired general and bring him to court in the event that he refuses to appear voluntarily.
Diplomatic circles in Islamabad are abuzz with the question: if Musharraf had to appear before court for one day, what stopped him from doing so for such a long period? Perhaps the general himself can answer this question after he breathes in free space beyond Pakistan, his onetime cherished place, manifested in his slogan "Pakistan First."
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar
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