The army is the key to stability in Pakistan

High treason carries the death penalty but that is unlikely in the case of Musharraf

Share

Only weeks after Nawaz Sharif’s swearing-in as Prime Minister, is Pakistan once again heading towards a dangerous confrontation between the elected government and the military? That is the fear prompted by Mr Sharif’s declaration in parliament yesterday that Pervez Musharraf, the army chief-of-staff who ousted him from power in a coup in 1999 and then eight years later imposed emergency rule, was liable to be tried for high treason, which can be punishable by death. “Musharraf violated the constitution twice,” Mr Sharif said. “He will have to answer for his actions before the court.”

For those tempted to see Pakistani politics as an unending revenge tragedy, this was merely the next act. Mr Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan for nine years after the coup and then went into exile after being defeated in elections, was guilty of hubris in returning to his homeland in February with the hope of getting back into power, this time through the ballot box. Mr Sharif, himself forced into exile by Mr Musharraf, was the agent of nemesis. And who could say with any certainty that the malign chain of events would end there? The first dire act in this drama, after all, was the hanging of the hugely popular Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, by army chief and dictator Zia ul-Haq. How bitterly appropriate – how satisfactory in dramatic terms – if an elected premier should now turn the tables.

But although Article 6 of Pakistan’s constitution allows for the execution of a person guilty of high treason, that is an unlikely outcome. Unlike certain other Islamic countries, there have been few cases of capital punishment in Pakistan in recent years. And the real import of yesterday’s announcement is that Pakistan is moving in a significant and hopeful new direction.

The key figure in that positive movement is neither Mr Sharif nor Mr Musharraf but General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, who declared back in 2008 that the army would stay out of politics and who has kept that promise. General Kayani strongly urged Mr Musharraf to remain in exile, avoided army interference in the recent elections, and has been rewarded by witnessing the first democratic transfer of power in Pakistani history.

If Mr Musharraf does go on trial, it is reasonable to expect that General Kayani will remain equally phlegmatic. Voices of protest from inside the military may make life uncomfortable for him, but aside from the constitutional justness of putting the former dictator on trial, General Kayani may profit from a sense within the army that Mr Musharraf conceded far too much to the US in the war on terror. And if Mr Musharraf is duly found guilty, that will be almost as important a precedent for Pakistan as the success of the recent elections. It will put an important new obstacle in the way of any future Musharraf dreaming of a coup d’etat.

The importance of such a development – of a relationship between the government and the army in which there is for the first time a modicum of trust – was underlined by the appalling terrorist crime at the weekend in which militants belonging to the Pakistani Taliban killed nine foreign climbers in the Himalayas. A Taliban spokesman claimed that this was their way of protesting against deaths from American drone attacks. The impact will be keenly felt in Pakistan, delivering a disastrous blow to the last surviving element of the tourist industry, and throwing its vital relations with China into crisis. More than ever Pakistan needs its elected representatives and its military to work in concert. A sober and successful prosecution of Mr Musharraf will greatly improve the chances of that.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Whoever and whatever Arthur was, he wasn’t Scottish

Guy Keleny
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea