The famous French novelist Honoré de Balzac once wrote, “Laws are spider-webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.” We have just have seen the truth of this, as the former military dictator Pervez Musharraf, who was sentenced to death on treason charges by a Pakistani special court on December 17, had his conviction overturned this week by the Lahore High Court.
A three-member Lahore High Court bench declared that the special court constituted to try Musharraf for treason for abrogating the constitution on November 3, 2007, was illegal. In a country where the judiciary has always sided with the military establishment, the decision to acquit Musharraf did not come as a surprise; in fact, the only surprise was the earlier conviction itself.
The special court that was termed unconstitutional by the Lahore High Court was constituted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which by law is the only forum where Musharraf could have filed an appeal against his conviction. However, again making a mockery of the Pakistani legal system, the powerful establishment secured a verdict in favor of one of its former bosses, Musharraf, from the High Court.
This was the last nail in the coffin of rule of law and democracy in Pakistan. A country where a former military dictator cannot even be convicted symbolically and where laws are tailor-made to benefit the establishment can never be termed a civilized or democratic country. So not only is Musharraf a free man who despite abrogating the constitution twice has not been found guilty, even a court trial against him is considered illegal and a sin.
Musharraf’s acquittal sends a loud and clear message that the military establishment and its cronies remain above the law while the rest of the country remains hostage to the rotten legal system where getting timely justice or even in one’s own lifetime remains a dream for many.
Meanwhile, the elected leadership of the country after selling its soul to the establishment to get temporary benefits is as usual silent on this decision to acquit Musharraf. In fact the major political parties – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are not even thinking of the consequences of this verdict on the legal and justice system and democracy in the country.
This acquittal of Musharraf has raised some serious questions on the legal system. The question remains of whether the Pakistani masses are the children of lesser gods, as they cannot even think of getting relief within weeks even for a minor crime while a former dictator has been given a clean chit despite the fact that he openly suspended the constitution twice.
In civilized countries, governance works under a social contract that every citizen is equal before the law and where people are free to elect their representatives and live without any fear of threats to their civic liberties such as freedom of speech and protection of life and property. But in Pakistan, while there may be a social contract between the state and its citizens, it exists only on paper. In reality, powerful people like Musharraf remain above the law while the state governs the country through fear and “controls democracy” through its political puppets.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power with a slogan of “accountability for all,” seems helpless, as his entire cabinet is defending the decision to acquit Musharraf. Perhaps this is the price Khan has to pay for coming to power on the shoulders of the military establishment instead of through the support of the masses. But the fact is that Khan is not alone –even the major opposition parties the PML-N and PPP are trying their best to come to power again themselves with the help of the establishment.
So Musharraf’s acquittal and the silence of the opposition parties, especially the PML-N top brass, is a sign that the plan to dislodge Khan’s government has started, and this time Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz is looking to replace Khan and remains the favorite choice of the establishment as he is even more obedient than Khan.
This is the reason that despite the cold weather in the federal capital Islamabad, the political temperature is gradually rising. The shrewd political leaders of old have started making new alliances. The former chief minister of Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who was a close aide of Musharraf is busy winning the loyalties of opportunistic politicians from southern and northern Punjab to regain his former post as chief of the province. Since Shahbaz Sharif is eyeing the premiership, Punjab remains open, as Shahbaz’ son Hamza is a weak contender.
Interestingly, Maryam Nawaz is out of the political scenario, as with the PML-N opting to play as another “B” team of the establishment, her political career with Shahbaz at the helm of party affairs is almost over unless she decides to launch a new political party or lead a revolt against Shahbaz and his sons.
Meanwhile, the PPP will be keen not only to get a guarantee from the establishment of not weakening its government in Sindh but also will be looking for a share of power in Balochistan province, where a party created by the invisible forces, the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), is gradually experiencing a rift within its own ranks. It is not rocket science to see who controls the BAP and who is pulling its strings right now.
In the National Assembly, Khan is only surviving on the votes of his allies provided by the invisible forces. This means he can do nothing much to save his government in Punjab or stop either the PPP or Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F) leader Fazal-ur-Rehman from toppling the Balochistan government. All Khan can hope for is somehow saving his federal government. If he can buy time and survive the year without sacrificing Punjab while saving his government in Islamabad, he surely will have outsmarted all his political opponents, but to do this he will have to deliver good governance so the establishment does not ditch him. According to insiders, Khan may also dissolve the National Assembly if he thinks the establishment is about to topple his government.
How Khan will react remains to be seen, and one hopes that instead of aligning with the invisible forces and conspiring against Khan’s government, the opposition, rather than focusing its energies on its lust for power, will focus on the problems of common masses who are struggling with rising inflation and high utility bills. Right now the establishment still is pulling the strings and the opposition parties are dancing to the tunes of the invisible forces.
It is a test of nerves for Khan, while Musharraf, sitting in a foreign land, will be laughing at the political puppets and the legal and judicial system as he has again successfully exploited them all with the help of the invisible forces.