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Is General Musharraf more equal than others?

Updated April 24, 2013

If there were ever a good time to issue a press release, this was it. As soon as the confidants of General Musharraf insinuated that the armed forces may interject if the retired General was made to face the judicial process, the Inter Services Press relations (ISPR) should have fired a press release denying such innuendos and rumours.

The ISPR instead stayed conspicuously silent, forcing the rumour mills to go into overdrive, while the General’s lawyer and spokesperson made even taller and more ridiculous claims suggesting that the judges should first receive feedback from the intelligence agencies before rendering judgements.

George Orwell would have loved to watch this allegorical episode from the Animal Farm in which General Musharraf’s lawyer claimed that some animals were more equal than others. After General Musharraf’s bail was rejected by the Islamabad High Court his lawyer, Ahmad Raza Kasuri, told BBC that “General Musharraf is not any Tom, Dick and Harry” that Police could arrest him. Kasuri further claimed that it was not the Courts, but instead the Federal Cabinet that had the authority to order the General’s arrest.

Why you may ask that Mr. Kasuri made us recall of the famous Orwellian quote that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Mr. Kasuri argued that since General Musharraf is a man with an “international clout, a former president, a former army chief” he may not be confused with the ordinary citizens of Pakistan. The esteemed lawyer further laid out the modalities for the courts when they were to adjudicate on matters involving retired army generals. Instead of passing judgements, according to Mr. Kasuri, the courts should first consult with the spooks to determine the political fallout of their judicial deliberations. “The intelligence agencies will give their feedback. What could be the reaction, what could be the fallback of” canceling General Musharraf’s bail, insisted Mr. Kasuri.

Imagine the implications of what Mr. Kasuri has been advocating on behalf of his client. He is essentially promoting a two-tier judicial systems: One system for the people of privilege, and another for Tom, Dick, and Harry’s of Pakistan. In such a system, people enjoying privilege would not be inconvenienced by the law until intelligence agencies have rendered their verdict. As for the rest, the Courts will be free to act.

I am reminded of the fateful day in March 1993 when the Supreme Court took a break from hearing a case against another former Chief of Staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg, to hold contempt of court proceedings against Khawar Mehdi. The Supreme Court was hearing a case against General Beg. Khawar Mehdi, Shahid Orakzai, and other journalists interrupted the Court proceedings and were thus served notices by the court. When Khawar was asked to apologise to the Court, he responded: “I’m sorry, for I’m not a general or a tycoon,” Khawar knew well that some animals were more equal than others.

Some retired generals have opined that the courts and the lawyers should not try to ridicule General Musharraf. They are justified in making this assertion. Judicial proceedings have no room for personal vendettas. However, the retired servicemen will serve their nation better if they were to also state that one enjoys the same standing before law irrespective of a person’ social stature.

Mr. Kasuri represents the Pakistan of yesteryear where some were more equal than others before the law. A democratic Pakistan cannot have such class-based discrimination. The courts are to treat everyone the same way. Giving preferential treatment to a few will lead to chaos.

And for record, I am that Tom, Dick, or Harry (or Nathu Khaira) that Mr. Kasuri so pejoratively referred to when he tried to defend General Musharraf. I am more proud of being an ordinary citizen than any credential or title I hold today or my hold in the future. There is no greater privilege than being a citizen among citizens, a fact that will forever be lost on Mr. Kasuri, who is fatigued by arrogance, and on others who see the rest of us as bloody civilians.

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Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.

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The views expressed by this blogger and in the following comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.