“I am not a traitor,” said former president retired General Pervez Musharraf in his defence once the Special Court had indicted him on charges related to imposition of emergency in the country on Nov 3, 2007.
When Justice Tahira Safdar of the Balochistan High Court read out the first charge against Musharraf, the former president glanced at his lawyer nervously.
However, he managed to collect himself and replied, “I plead not guilty”.
Even earlier, when he sat quietly watching the lawyers and the judges discuss the case, he appeared tense, focusing on the exchange taking place in front of him.
He repeated “not guilty” to all the five offences the learned judge read out.
Once this was done, the retired commando signed the charge sheet after which he began to speak and held forth for 25 minutes.
After stating that he was not a “ghaddar”, he further explained that he had not been avoiding the court.
He added that he had stayed away for three reasons — security (where he said he feared for the safety of others more than his own life); and his doctors’ advice which he had ignored and come to the Special Court twice.
“The third reason is legal, which I will not go into now,” he claimed, as he smoothly moved on.
He pointed out that since his return to Pakistan in March last year, he had appeared before 16 different courts, adding that he held the courts and judges in the “highest esteem”.
But Musharraf spent a relatively short time discussing his reasons for staying away as most of his speech focused on recalling his political and military achievements.
Explaining that he had a vision for a prosperous Pakistan, he said that he could not be a traitor.
“I have been the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) for 9 years and served the Pakistan Army for 44 years; I fought two wars — in 1965 and 1971 — and am still ready to lay down my life for my motherland.”
He said that those who sold the country’s secrets or those who looted public money or harmed the country by holding back its development were the traitors.
However, he stopped short of naming any such ‘traitors’.
It was at this point that the general indulged in rattling off macro-economic numbers as he was wont to do when he was at the helm of affairs.
“In 2008 when I quit as president the foreign debt stood at $37 billion which has now reached $50 billion,” he pointed out.
“I made the defence of the country stronger and introduced command and control system for the safety of nuclear assets,” he claimed.
“Empowering the people and making the country strong were my only sins,” he declaimed.
Though he spoke but fleetingly of Nov 3, 2007, for which he is now being tried, he did emphasise that the emergency was imposed after seeking the advice of the then prime minister, federal cabinet and other stakeholders.
However, he did not name the army officers or corps commanders who are also mentioned in the proclamation along with the civilians.
Regardless of who else was moved by Musharraf’s rhetoric it seemed that Akram Sheikh, head of the prosecution team, was.
As soon the general ended his speech, Mr Sheikh told the bench that the complaint the federal government filed before the Special Court never used the word “traitor” for Musharraf.
The complaint alleged that Gen Musharraf had imposed an emergency and abrogated the Constitution, he pointed out.
This is a case of violating the Constitution, he said.