PTI to the rescue

Published November 27, 2019

IT is a stunning volte-face, even for a government that has many an about-face under its belt.

On Monday, the PTI government filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court seeking a deferment of the verdict in the case against retired Gen Pervez Musharraf for high treason, due to be announced tomorrow.

The trial has dragged on since March 2014, when a special court constituted to try the former military dictator charged him under Article 6 for suspending the Constitution in 2007 and imposing emergency rule.

Exactly a week before his government came to Mr Musharraf’s rescue, Prime Minister Imran Khan — evidently riled up by Nawaz Sharif’s departure for medical treatment abroad — made an ill-considered jibe against the superior judiciary, asking it to “restore public trust by ending the impression about favouring the powerful against the poor”.

In a robust defence of his institution, Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa retorted that the judiciary had convicted one prime minister and disqualified another, and that a verdict against a former army chief was soon to be delivered.

Surely anyone familiar with Pakistan’s history knows that an army chief can be counted among that sliver of the elite whose influence, to a great extent, endures beyond retirement. Indeed, so powerful is this office that Mr Musharraf is the first of his cohort to have faced prosecution for suspending the Constitution.

How then can a government that loses no opportunity to portray itself as a champion of ordinary citizens, and that has vowed to punish the abuse of office by the privileged few, rush to Mr Musharraf’s defence?

The yet to be announced verdict notwithstanding, certain facts are irrefutable: the military dictator suspended the fundamental law of the land, thereby stripping the people of constitutional protections based on principles of justice and liberty.

When a party that has come to power through the electoral process can seek relief for such an individual, who is alleged to have committed one of the most serious crimes against the state, it could justifiably be accused of harbouring a soft spot for authoritarian rule. That a number of duly elected people’s representatives — including a former prime minister — have been subjected to months-long detention without charge while the government touts its ‘accountability’ credentials, only strengthens this perception.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has shown regrettably poor judgement in authorising the bizarre intervention on behalf of Mr Musharraf.

After all, it should have been self-evident that this move, far from burnishing the PTI’s reputation, would convey the impression of a government at odds with itself.

As expected, social media has dug up video evidence of Mr Khan many years ago denouncing the former army chief’s actions and his imposition of emergency. As head of a parliamentary democracy today, the prime minister should not have wavered from that stance.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2019

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