RETIRED General Pervez Musharraf has once again united a polarised polity and society. On Friday, as he and his legal eagles were running from court house to the police headquarters, the rest of the country came together to criticise him in the media and on the streets; in the Senate, politicians once again called for his trial under Article 6, merely underscoring the legal woes of the former dictator. In this context, it’s hard to not join this “sound and fury” calling for a trial of ‘public enemy number one’ but to do so would not be just. Indeed, no one can deny the role played by Gen Musharraf in the coup of 1999 and then in November 2007 when he imposed an emergency, deposed the judiciary, tried to censor the media and threw many people behind bars. But was he acting alone both times? In all honesty, he was not.
If the 1999 coup was bloodless it was because it enjoyed more widespread support than Pakistan would today like to admit to. And this is exactly why the emergency was rolled back in 2007 because it was unacceptable to the public at large. More than that, a trial of Gen Musharraf alone would simply throw a cover over his accomplices — the generals who helped him, the judiciary that validated the coup, the politicians who joined him and many others. To hold him guilty alone would simply perpetuate this myth that a military coup and the subversion of democracy is the ‘sin’ of an individual instead of a collective act.
This has even been acknowledged in the historic Supreme Court verdict on the 2007 emergency that pointed out the role played by judges and politicians in upholding undemocratic acts. In fact, that verdict was a sign of the maturity of Pakistani society — it had acknowledged past mistakes and was now ready to move forward. To now focus on Gen Musharraf and press for his trial would be reversal of our society’s evolution. His trial, if the current national mood prevails, will smack of vindictiveness and a desire for revenge — emotions that are best avoided. It needs to be realised that Gen Musharraf’s departure in 2008 and his arrest at present are possible because the door to military coups has been shut than to presume that his trial alone will prevent further coups. Sometimes justice is best served by letting history be, rather than forcibly dragging it into the present. Gen Musharraf too is part of Pakistan’s past and he should be left there.