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    South Asia
     Oct 21, '13

Musharraf eyes a day in court
By Irshad Salim

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

News cameramen gathered near the residence of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad last week when he was arrested over a 2007 raid on the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). They hoped for some one-liners from the ex-general if he came out. He didn't.

Musharraf's arrest came just a day after a court granted him bail in two separate cases. Among the bail's conditions, his lawyers

said, was freedom to travel within Pakistan and abroad (after six months under house arrest). He now remains detained in his pristine Chuck Shahzad home.

So what happened?

The ex-commando and his loyalists may actually want him to face the courts in the Lal Masjid case, so that the bloody stigma attached all to that and the other cases stacking up against him can be tackled head on. There is a method to the ex-general's madness.

Musharraf seems to have no plans to either leave the field, and he has made this clear in the glare of an unfriendly media since his April return to the country.

He seems confident that the constellation of forces, the congruency of events, and the impending permanent presence of the world's most vociferous democracy in Islamabad's backyard won't allow any unconstitutional and unlawful dispensation of justice.

It should not be forgotten that the ex-president is an avowed bridge player. Like any prudent individual, he and his attorneys will likely hang their hats on the weaknesses in the plaintiff's arguments while furthering their arguments, if it at all goes that far, on the lacunae, weaknesses and loopholes in the law.

The geo-strategic and regional developments crystallizing in Pakistan's backyard must also not be discounted. Stability in the region, the continuance of democracy and rule of law in Pakistan, are the buzz words being oft repeated by international as well as national stakeholders. The entire region stands at the crossroads of becoming a supernova of economic growth and opportunities - and this outweighs the potential pitfalls.

General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani in recent statements highlighted the urgent need for a continuance of democracy, fair play among state institutions and civil-military camaraderie.

Stakeholders may want men like Musharraf around as much as they want the chain-smoking Kiani and the wheeling-dealing former president Asif Ali Zardari. They kept Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto around too. Our own stakeholders are aligned in most matters with the international players, and have been by and large holding strategic dialogues since many years. The next one is in 2014.

When I lump all stakeholders together, I have in mind the commonality of key ingredients in the national interests of the state of Pakistan and the international players. These dictate a need to keep the assets around, and not rock the boat until it reaches the shore smoothly.

Interestingly, over the years, the threat perception has grown full circle and now border security along the entire perimeter of Pakistan and on all sides has become a reality, internal stability notwithstanding.

Thus, a continuance of the democratic setup that guarantees constituent-based political support to the government and the state, as well as their checks and balances through an effective judicial system that relies on rule of law have become all the more critical and relevant than in the past.

Given such circumstances, throwing the commando to the wolves (Musharraf's enemies) may yield unpredictable results leading of course to destabilization.

Letting the due process of law take its course in Musharraf's cases perfectly syncs with the "predictability and control" strategy adopted by the state, and it also embraces the general contour of the "straight line phenomenon" seen since 2008. Zardari's ascent to power with promises to deliver, after the unfortunate killing of Benazir, was therefore incidental not accidental.

The judiciary wittingly or unwittingly has been doing the betting on behalf of all the state institutions, and has been clearing one and all accused or suspected of wrongdoing one by one. Some have been hurt in the short-run but will benefit in the long-run as they line up in the old queue wearing washed attires.

That is the beauty of invoking the due process of law. The tactic seems to be working like a bypass relief valve which maintains and controls surges, pressures and back-pressures in the pipeline so that the fluid keeps flowing.

For Musharraf salvation therefore lies in the due process of law, as it will ultimately create, though financially and time-wise would be costly, the path of least resistance for him to come out vanquished and survive for yet another cat's life. Whether Musharraf thereafter plays an innings or two in Pakistan's politics is another cigar to smoke on another day. Now he wants a day in court.

So for Musharraf, a battery of the best legal and Machiavellian minds is all that he needs to invoke all the lacunae in the constitution that exist or may exist in his favor, and walk on the sidewalk of our British-based laws towards sunshine.

Why therefore won't Musharraf's lawyers let him wear that famous glove in the courtroom to demonstrate that "it is too small to fit" to commit a murder, and therefore he could not have committed the murder. The Lal Masjid case may therefore end up being just a courtroom drama or a non-starter if some talk show hosts and their guests are to be taken seriously.

The merit of the case has already begun to unravel. Here are some clues (in Italics) for the discerning reader:

Dawn reported in "Jail trial of Musharraf ordered" on October 11:
That sources in the police claimed the Aabpara police has refused to collect evidence and record the statements of witnesses against Musharraf in connection with the killing of the Lal Masjid cleric and his mother.

The complainant reportedly visited the Aabpara police station to hand over the evidence to the SHO (station house officer). However, the officer was not available on both the occasions.

The complainant then approached the investigating officer and other staff but they also refused to entertain them.

The Lal Masjid Shuhada Foundation claims the SHO and the investigating officer had deliberately refused to receive evidence and record their statement to give benefit to the former president.

"We have documents and proof against Musharraf to establish his guilt in the 2007 Lal Masjid operation and the killing of people, indulging Ghazi Abdul Rasheed and his mother Sabiha Khatoon." He added: "We also wanted to give the list of witnesses who will give statements against Musharraf." (Author's italics)
Since it's a criminal case against the general who was also the president, without all of the above that I have indicated in Italics, it may therefore be difficult to prove beyond benefit of reasonable doubt that he indeed ordered the killing of the Lal Masjid cleric and his mother.

For "lack of evidence" or for lack of strong prosecution submissions, arguments and deliverables, accused extremists have walked out from the courtroom innocent. So may Musharraf. The precedents exist. Human Rights, a fair trial, due process cannot be denied to him if they were accorded to others like him.

As far as the promise of providing corroborating statements against Musharraf made by Ch Shujaat and Ejaz ul Haq recently, it may not produce the "smoking gun" to hang the commando, as both individuals may not pass the credibility test when cross-examined by the defendant's criminal attorneys.

Both have been complicit since many years including Musharraf era of drawing their strengths from the khakis. It was therefore timely and apt when one newspaper headline and a cartoon said about them, "You too Brutus?".

Only the establishment beyond reasonable doubt by the plaintiff's attorneys that the Lal Masjid deaths were actually the result of a planned conspiracy by Musharraf and his executioners in the army, government, and bureaucracy of that time can implicate him and his partners of multiple murders or mass murder.

We are however not completely there yet, nor are we ready by any count to undertake a Nuremberg-type trial as we do not practice the ritual of archiving paper trails that can assist our legal system to establish authority, responsibility and accountability matrix for Musharraf type individuals when they are in power.

We may boast of having become a nuclear state and capable of hoisting the Pakistan flag on the Red Fort in New Delhi but we still remain a mosaic-nation polka-dotted with avengers and vigilantes, wannabes and carpetbaggers. Allah Khair Karey! (May God protect us).

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Irshad Salim is editor of DesPardes.com and PKonweb.com

(Copyright 2013 Irshad Salim)

Musharraf 'free to leave' Pakistan (Oct 10, '13)



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