Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in 2004. His rule is over, but the dictatorial mindset remains. Photo: AFP / Jewel Samad

Famous American reformer and abolitionist Theodore Parker has been quoted as saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” He was right, as no matter how long the oppressor remains above the law, there comes a time when justice eventually prevails.

This has been proved right in the case of General Pervez Musharraf, who in a country ruled by direct or indirect military control has been sentenced to death on treason charges. But the Pakistani government and the military establishment as they were recovering from this shocking verdict were given a surprise by the special court on Thursday when it issued its detailed judgment on the case.

The court condemned Musharraf for treason and for deliberately evading the proceedings of the case. The decision to convict a former military dictator surely will go down as one of the bravest verdicts of the Pakistani judiciary, but a note from the chief justice of Peshawar High Court,  Waqar Ahmed Seth, has provided an opportunity to the establishment to convince the public that this court decision is controversial.

Waqar in Paragraph 66 of the judgment wrote that the authorities should do whatever they can to bring Musharraf back to the country and if he dies before that happens, his dead body should be hanged in the D-Chowk (Democracy Chowk), a famous town square in Islamabad, for three days.

One can differ with this note and term it as overly harsh, but this one paragraph does not necessarily affect the entire judgment or justify the wrongdoings of Musharraf. However, this paragraph has provided an opportunity to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and the military establishment to spin the situation in their favor, and with a large segment of the mainstream media at their disposal, it did not take them long to term the entire verdict as inhuman, harsh and contrary to the law of the land and religious values.

Religious clerics like Tahir Ashrafi were immediately brought on to the television screens, wherewith the help of parachute TV anchors and pseudo-analysts they tried to convince the masses that the verdict was not in accordance with sharia.

This is not the first time that religions and pro-establishment religious schools have been used to support the narrative of the invisible forces in Pakistan. While TV channels are busy creating artificial hype and the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated in a press conference that the detailed verdict on Musharraf is against “humanity and religion,” the actual story is entirely different. Most people are happy that Musharraf has been convicted for his crime of subverting the constitution.

This is the reason that no major protest in favor of Musharraf has been seen in the country. Even though religion is being brought in to malign the judgment and the traditional nexus of mullahs and pro-establishment journalists and analysts are working around the clock to give the verdict an angle of inhumanity and anti-religion, still, the majority of the masses are not buying this narrative.

The fact that the PTI government has decided to file a judicial reference against Justice Waqar shows the mindset of the establishment to protect its hegemony at any cost, and again a new U-turn by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Musharraf’s conviction clearly indicates that he is not ready to learn from the history of Musharraf’s attempts to undermine the judiciary and the judges. It seems that Khan, being the face of a hybrid regime, will be pitted against the judiciary to settle a score in the Musharraf case. The intent to file a judicial reference against Waqar is only the beginning, and it can be predicted that the other judges of the superior judiciary too will be targeted for not taking dictation from the establishment.

There is a simple way for the government to exclude the controversial paragraph from the verdict, by filing a review petition in a higher court. Other than this paragraph, no one but Musharraf’s cronies and the blind fan club of Imran Khan can criticize the verdict.

The judiciary on the other hand under Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who retired on Friday, not only finished the toxic legacy of former chief justice Saqib Nisar, who is equally responsible for the current engineered political discourse but first with the Chief of Army Staff tenure-extension case and then by backing the special court’s resistance to invisible pressure has almost finished the hegemony of the establishment. So the new chief justice will be under immense pressure, as his institution will be a target of criticism and pressure from the government and the invisible forces.

But for now, a debate that has never before been allowed has started. From the small tea stalls to the lounges of expensive restaurants, the topic of discussion is Musharraf’s conviction, and whether military officers who defy their oath and intervene in politics should also be convicted. Musharraf’s conviction means that a precedent has been set, and in the future, further army chiefs can be put to trial if they subvert the constitution or intervene in politics.

Ironically, the establishment that invented the shield of treason to protect its hegemony and has labeled practically every dissenting politician and journalist a traitor has become a victim of its own game.

Musharraf’s conviction, even if it remains symbolic, is important, as this will not only become a part of history, where it will be written that on December 17, 2019, for the first time in Pakistan a former military dictator was convicted for abrogating the constitution, but it will also be instrumental for the future of democracy. Pakistan can only move forward when every single institution performs its duties under the ambit of the constitution and holds itself accountable to the law of the land.

As Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” The same is the case with nations, as the nations that do not stand for right, justice, and truth no matter how bitter it is can never progress and avoid repeating the same mistakes.

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