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Judicial overreach: Musharraf ban

Updated May 03, 2013
Former President Pervez Musharraf. — File Photo
Former President Pervez Musharraf. — File Photo

BANNED for life — Pervez Musharraf’s abortive return to politics has been brought to a screeching halt by the Peshawar High Court order on Tuesday. Parsing the logic of the order is delicate business: Musharraf has clearly committed grave crimes against the Constitution and the superior judiciary was a direct target of Gen Musharraf in 2007. But there are two other, relevant matters here: one, the issue before the PHC chief justice was simply the former general’s disqualification from contesting a National Assembly seat in Chitral; and two, Gen Musharraf has yet to be convicted in any of the numerous cases, and countless allegations, lodged against him. So in many ways, the high court has put the judicial cart before the horse — an unhappy situation of judicial overreach where perhaps none was necessary.

For Gen Musharraf, the tightening of the judicial noose means he has largely run out of options, at least public, legal ones. All legal routes ultimately lead to the Supreme Court — and no one need be reminded who and what awaits him there. The issue, however, is larger than a former dictator and a superior judiciary unwilling to extend to him the legal proprieties a less controversial accused may expect. As much as there is a legal side to how best the case of Gen Musharraf ought to be dealt with, there is a political side too — ultimately, the decision to prosecute the former dictator and keep him out of politics ought to be one taken by the people’s representatives. Where the elected representatives have not moved as quickly or efficiently as the courts would have liked, the superior judiciary has tried to produce ad hoc solutions. But in the case of Gen Musharraf, the judiciary itself has much to account for given that his 1999 coup was sanctioned by the Supreme Court and that the referendum which allowed the then-army chief to stay on in power beyond the initial three years granted to him by the court also occurred with minimal judicial interference or objection.

Perhaps what the country needs most — and Gen Musharraf’s determination to return to Pakistan has created an opportunity for — is a meaningful and wide-ranging revisiting of Article 6 of the Constitution and the 1973 law operationalising the punishment for treason, a job a strong parliament after May 11 could undertake. More specifically, treating enablers and aiders and abettors at the same level as the general taking over in a coup, could perhaps help make it more difficult for a would-be coup-maker.