Into the sunset- By Asif Ezdi


One of Kafka’s short stories is about a mouse who complains that the world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning, it was so big that he kept running and running and was glad when he saw walls far away, but these walls had now narrowed and he was in the last chamber already. “There in the corner stands the trap that I must run into,” he says. “You only need to change your direction,” says the cat, and eats it up. This story can be interpreted in different ways. Though it was almost certainly not Kafka’s intention, the parable could also symbolise the course of a dictatorship from its heyday to its last days.

Like Kafka’s whimpering mouse in the last chamber, our own long-serving former military dictator might well be reflecting on the narrowing walls (quite literally) around him, as he is confined to the Presidency and is forsaken by his erstwhile supporters and allies. The choice between him is also like that of the mouse caught between the trap and the cat. The question is not whether Musharraf will go (he will), or when (in a few weeks, max), but how, and whether he will face a trial under Article 6 of the Constitution.

Musharraf’s spokesman said on Aug 10 that the former general will not resign. People who are saying he will resign are either lying, the spokesman declared, or they simply don’t know his nature. Fortunately, we only have to wait a few days to know who is lying. Musharraf often boasts that he is a fighter. To many others, his political record is more like that of a quitter when faced with a determined opponent or a difficult fight. His call on Independence Day for “reconciliation,” now that he is a mere shadow of the autocratic former commando, sounded more like a last desperate appeal for a graceful exit than a resolve to stay and fight.

Musharraf would have “fought” if he had won the support of the army and his handpicked judges of the Dogar court for a possible move to dissolve the National Assembly under Article 58(2)(b). But both of them are reported to have told Musharraf that they are not in a position to oblige. The army evidently recognises that its support for such a desperate step to save the skin of a discredited former chief holding the post of president on the strength of a fraudulent election would pitch them against the people and take the country down a blind alley. The judges of the Dogar court, for their part, have now to curry favour with the new strongman of Pakistani politics to hold on to their jobs and are obviously not inclined to risk their future for the sake of a fast fading benefactor.

If Musharraf does not resign earlier, the government has decided to initiate the process of impeachment on Monday. This process, under Article 47 of the Constitution, begins with a majority of the total membership of either House of Parliament giving to the Speaker a written notice of their intention to move a resolution to impeach the president. The charge sheet, which should have been ready by now, has not been prepared yet. The delay seems to reflect differences over the precise charges to be brought against Musharraf and it is uncertain that it would be ready by the given date.

It is not even clear yet whether the charges only pertain to a violation of the Constitution or also to gross misconduct. The joint communiqué issued by the coalition on Aug 7 sheds little light. For what should have been a historic document, this statement is quite anti-climactic, if not downright pathetic. Reading it, one would get the impression that Musharraf is being impeached because of failed economic policies, the weakening of the federation, his undermining of the transition to democracy and his failure to take a vote of confidence from the newly elected assemblies. Bad economic policies and failure to take a vote of confidence are hardly impeachable offences and the charges of weakening the federation and undermining the democratic transition will not hold water unless substantiated with reference to specific provisions of the Constitution.

It is striking that the joint communiqué does not speak of Musharraf’s most flagrant violations of the Constitution among the grounds for his impeachment: putting the Constitution into “abeyance” (twice) and the removal of the judges last November, although these are also charges that are the easiest to establish. The latter omission is all the more remarkable because the joint communiqué says in another place that the judges were removed through extra-constitutional means – contrary to the judgement of the Dogar court that their dismissal was legal. If the first suspension of the Constitution is taken to have been validated by the 17th Amendment, that cannot be said about the second one.

These two charges – putting the Constitution in abeyance and removing the judges – should be enough for Musharraf’s impeachment. They would also not require any lengthy investigation, and parliamentary proceedings to deal with them would be short. The Speaker has to transmit a copy of the impeachment notice to the president within three days and summon the joint sitting in seven to 14 days after the initial notice is served. The impeachment process could therefore be completed in a week to ten days. The president is not required under the Constitution to give a written reply, nor is it necessary – contrary to what Farooq Naek has said – for the Parliament to await a reply from the president before starting consideration of the impeachment motion.

Instead of limiting the charge sheet to these two grave violations of the Constitution and keeping the process short, it is odd that the coalition parties are discussing charging Musharraf with a medley of his lesser misdeeds running into hundreds of pages that would take weeks to dispose of, including a long drawn-out investigative process, something that the country can ill-afford. The government is obviously in need of good legal advice. Farooq Naek is either incompetent or is playing games.

Besides the question of the charge sheet, the coalition has yet to resolve the issue of a safe exit for Musharraf. While the PML-N insists that he must be held accountable for his deeds, Zardari is inclined to be “flexible.” That probably has a lot to do with Washington’s wish that their old “indispensable ally” should be spared the humiliation of being dragged through the courts. It may be difficult for Zardari to ignore Washington’s friendly advice if, as Suskind writes in his account of the negotiations held under Washington’s auspices on the power-sharing deal between Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf, the Americans have some sensitive information about secret accounts. It has also been suggested that the army would want to avoid a messy trial that could smear its reputation.

Holding Musharraf accountable for his deeds is important not because it would be poetic justice to give him a taste of his own medicine, but because the principle must be established that the high and mighty are answerable for their actions under the law of the land. Two civilian prime ministers were tried and convicted in show trails after being toppled by military dictators. Why should an ex-army chief now go scot-free? The standing of the army will not suffer but will be enhanced if it does not seek to interfere in the legal processes.

There is also another reason. Article 6 would become a dead letter if Musharraf is not brought to trial under it. If Ayub and Yahya had been held accountable, that would have deterred future adventurers like Zia and Musharraf. Zia escaped justice because of divine intervention, but to allow Musharraf to vanish into the sunset without first making him answer for his deeds would amount to betraying future generations of Pakistanis.

Musharraf’s removal from the office of president, his trial for subversion of the Constitution and the restoration of the judges will be landmark steps on the road to establishing the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law, without which there can be no political stability. If the coalition partners take these steps – essential for a rebuilding of the institutions of state crippled by Musharraf – they can make history. If they do not, they will have let history slip away, like so many others before them did.

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

Source: The News, 16/8/2008

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