By Dr Subhash Kapila
Pakistan and the Pakistan Army stand at unprecedented political crossroads in December 2019 where Pakistan Army’s shock and awe with which Pakistan Army inflicted long spells of Army rule by Army Chiefs usurping political power seems to have waned as evidenced by cumulative political civilian protests and questioning of the Army combined with Judiciary assertion dating back to 2008.
Pakistan Army’s decades of a predominant grip on Pakistan’s political dynamics and governance stands seemingly challenged in December 2019 as evidenced by two unprecedented recent developments where the Supreme Court halted Pakistan Army Chief’s three years extension and a Special Court headed by Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court gave awarded ‘Death Sentence’ by hanging to former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf on charges of ‘High Treason’.
Pakistan’s political dynamics would certainly be impacted by this unprecedented development in Pakistan’s political history there are also dangers for regional security in South Asia. Pakistan Army to divert domestic public attention from the challenge to its authority and hold on Pakistan’s polity may be tempted towards increased military adventurism on both its flanks—India and Afghanistan. With India, the enhancement chances are more likely keeping in mind that Pakistan is already steeply increasing the escalation ladder in its confrontation with India.
In Pakistan’s tortured history where democracy taking firm roots was always short-circuited by tinkering and dividing Pakistan’s political parties by Pakistan Army Chiefs manipulating Pakistan’s political dynamics in a manner where the Pakistani public frustrated on various counts with politicians would welcome Pakistan Army rule, it appears in end-2019 that the bygone era of Pakistan Army’s unquestioned sway over Pakistan’s political dynamics is giving way.
Pakistan’s leading English daily DAWN in its Editorial on December 19 2019 tersely summed up this development in the following words: “The verdict in the treason case against retired General Musharraf marks a seismic shift in Pakistan’s political history. It was thus far inconceivable that any military dictator the country has ever known would be convicted of high treason as defined in Article 6 of the same Constitution that he had abrogated or held in abeyance”.
History is being made in Pakistan by this unprecedented death sentence to a Pakistan Army military dictator and so expressed by a leading Pakistani Columnist Zahid Hussein who stated in the same Paper in his Column that: “When a former military dictator is convicted and handed the Death Sentence in a country which has been under dictatorship for the better part of its existence, it is no less than history being made”.
Within Pakistan there is great jubilation that at last Pakistan’s Higher Judiciary has reclaimed its spine as a pillar of Pakistani State years after then Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhary of Pakistan Supreme Court stood upto General Musharraf who had dismissed him but had to soon after reinstate him when public upsurge and opposition surfaced in 2008. Consequently General Musharraf had to relinquish office on fears of impeachment paving the installation of a civilian Government.
Only two years back Pakistan Supreme Court then Chief Justice colluded with Pakistan Army Chief to what I had then first termed as a “Judicial Coup” to unseat PM Nawaz Sharif whom the Pakistan Army feared would bring Pakistan Army under civilian control. Pakistan Army brought in present PM Imran Khan as its “Selected PM” by rigged elections and hounding the Sharifs by ‘disqualifying for life’ ousted PM Nawaz Sharif from holding political office fearing that in Elections he would be voted back to power.
In hindsight, the above may have been prompted by Pakistan Army foreseeing the emergence of the present reality that conviction of General Musharraf would be inevitable and that a compliant Government had to be in place which could safeguard Pakistan Army’s corporate interests of its Generals.
Pakistan Army is aware for last couple of years that contextually it stands to lose global credibility if it indulges in ‘direct military coups’ and its most significant benefactor—China –would be unable to manage the global condemnation that would follow. The previous Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif very nearly came to launching a military coup when PM Nawaz Sharif was not amenable to stay the trial of General Musharraf. But he had to hold his hand.
Pakistan’s convicted military dictator General Musharraf had it coming in that he repeatedly refused to return to Pakistan and stand trial. The death sentence was handed ‘in abstentia’
Within Pakistan the reactions to this history in the making of convicting a former Pakistan Army Chief and self-styled President General Musharraf range from sheer exultation amongst Pakistan’s polity to shock and anger within the Pakistan Army which after expressing shock is now after the full judgement has been made available has asserted in menacing terms that Pakistan Army knows how to protect its image and interests.
Should one read in such Pakistan Army assertions made through its official ISPR Major General Ghafoor that the Pakistan Army has held out a veiled threat of a military coup if its former Army Chief is not exonerated? The General has also had the temerity to label the Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court heading the Special Court that hi ‘mentally insane’ and should be debarred from judicial office.
Pakistan Army in view of the contextual domestic political dynamics and Pakistan’s external environment should logically be ruling out the military coup option. Present Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa has PM Imran Khan in his pocket making PM Imran Khan repeatedly acclaim the PM and Pakistan Army are ‘on the same page’.
Pakistan Army therefore will use the shoulders of PM Imran Khan in complicity to somehow neutralise or over-rule the death sentence handed to General Musharraf. Already, the Law Minister has commenced making noises in this direction indicating that the trial was illegal. PM Imran Khan Government will be appealing against the ruling of the death sentence awarded to General Musharraf. Presumably the Pakistan Government and the Pakistan Army are counting on incoming Chief Justice to play their game.
There are many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ on the course that pans out in the coming months but what is undeniable is that this seismic development in Pakistan’s political dynamics carries many implications for Pakistan’s future. If, the Supreme Court upholds the Death Sentence on appeal by the Government the Pakistan Army’s options range from an international condemnatory military coup to diverting Pakistan’s domestic public attention by military adventurism against India.
If Pakistan Army submits to due processes of law and allow laws to take their own course in Pakistan then it would mark he advent of the much desired return of Pakistan Army “to the Barracks’ and submit to civilian supremacy over the Pakistan Army. That could be an optimistic portent for restoration of much needed democracy within Pakistan.
Concluding, it needs to be stressed that irrespective of which way developments pan out as regards the death sentence to General Musharraf the stark reality is that by negating legal processes within Pakistan the Pakistan Army would lose further sheen— a process that started when US Special Forces liquidated Osama bin Laden deep within Pakistan territory in Pakistan Army’s most prestigious garrison of Abbottabad. Pakistani public was aghast and contemptuous that Pakistan Army Generals were totally surprised by US actions or more logically complicit with the United States. Either way, Pakistan Army seems to be losing its grip on Pakistan’s political dynamics.