Musharraf’s sentence

Published January 11, 2024

AT a time when the constitutional order in Pakistan is — yet again — facing a variety of threats, the Supreme Court has upheld military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s death sentence.

The decision can serve as an inflection point where Pakistan’s constitutional history and future are concerned, offering lessons for those willing to learn about the perils of veering from the democratic course, and respecting the country’s basic law.

The general, who ruled over Pakistan for nearly a decade, was given the death sentence by a three-judge special court in 2019. A month later, the LHC had overturned the death sentence. The SC had last year taken up a set of appeals related to the case, and on Wednesday, the apex court set aside the LHC decision ruling that it was “not sustainable”.

Though this paper opposes the death penalty as a matter of principle, and it would have been better if the decision had come while the military strongman was still alive — Mr Musharraf passed away last year — the ramifications of the SC judgement are considerable, just as those of the special court’s original sentence were.

Though some may say that the decision is an afterthought, and that it will not stop military interventions should the proponents of marital rule decide to go ahead with it, the decision is highly symbolic. Mr Musharraf was sentenced for imposing his second emergency in 2007, yet it is fair to ask why he wasn’t punished for the ‘original sin’: the 1999 coup.

Rather than precipitating any clash of institutions, or targeting any individuals, the SC judgement should initiate a journey of soul-searching and self-reckoning within all pillars of the state, to see where we as a nation have gone wrong by abandoning the Constitution, and embracing autocratic tendencies.

Moreover, there should be an honest appraisal of history: Pervez Musharraf was not the first military strongman to rule Pakistan, though it is hoped he will be the last. Much before, in 1958, Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan had thwarted Pakistan’s democratic evolution by imposing this country’s first martial law. Next, Yahya Khan’s period of military rule led to the separation of East Pakistan.

The forays launched by Ziaul Haq on the constitutional order are also well-documented. But their lordships should also consider the role of their brother judges in propping up dictatorships. Many a learned jurist played a key role in validating military rule, guided by the dubious ‘doctrine of necessity’.

Today, as Pakistan struggles with upholding the constitutional order, and protecting fundamental rights, all institutions need to review our chequered history — including the Musharraf period — and realise that national salvation lies only in all pillars of the state staying within their constitutional bounds, and working to stop any further adventurism.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2024

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