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
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy