What kind of Taliban would like to help Musharraf escape a treason trial? Not the “bad” ones, surely? Through its latest attack on the Islamabad courts, a newly “registered” species of militant organization using the name Ahrar ul Hind is providing an almost perfect setting for the former military ruler to escape treason trial and possible conviction. Only a day after the Islamabad court attack that killed 11 people including lawyers and a judge, Musharraf’s lawyers were loud and clear, telling everyone that their client may not be appearing in court in the interests of his security. Through an application they have sought exemption from the appearance until the trial venue is shifted to, what they call, “a safer place.”
The move might be a valid time buying legal tactic as they hope for some divine help to arrive. However, the latest attacks hours after the two sides agreed to a truce, seem to have caught even the Taliban by surprise. The incident has apparently given an added advantage to those who do not want talks with the Taliban or the trial of a former army chief, let alone his conviction. There is no doubt about the threat to the life of the former military ruler from terrorist groups. However, there is nothing wrong in raising questions about the choice of courts as a target and the timing of it, with the next day hearing in special court. The answers to these questions may lend truth to the idea that some of these Taliban are an example of foolish enemies. After all, the choice is between Musharraf convicted and remembered as a traitor, or killed by the Taliban to become the martyr of a nation at war.
There is another outcome of such terrorist attacks on courts. They disrupt their functioning. So the perpetrators, apart from being seen as enemies are perhaps also “wise friends,“ attempting to facilitate Musharraf in a trial-free exit from Pakistan. As the people of Pakistan watch and wait for the hammer of justice to fall, those on the stage seem to be looking for a justifiable end to the drama. A threatening letter or the intimidation of judges might force any actor at any time to leave the stage. If this happens, the “wise friends” will have done their job. It would be easier to justify a non-starter trial than a post-indictment trial ending in disarray, with unwanted exposure of the accomplices and abettors. If the drama enters its post-indictment stage, then the audience will surely be asking for more. So every trick in the book will be used to avoid the latter and keep public expectations at a manageable level.
After prolonged legal wrangling over the initial issue of a fair trial, Musharraf and his friends are trying to give what they think is the final push to stop the court proceedings. As if the March 03 attacks in the Islamabad court were not enough to plead exemption, the defense lawyers also had another surprise waiting. During the hearing, Barrister Ahmed Raza Kasuri took out a letter purportedly written by the Taliban dating back to 12th February. In the letter, Kasuri and his team’s lawyers were threatened and warned against representing Musharraf. Kasuri claims to have received the back dated letter on the day the Islamabad courts were attacked. A day later there he was, presenting it before court.
From their reaction to the letter, Musharraf’s lawyers appeared to be more excited than afraid. The reaction of one such lawyer in particular is worth mentioning. Advocate Rana Ijaz of Musharraf’s team reportedly addressed the court as though his fears of a terrorist attack on Musharraf had already come true. Those present in the court saw him speaking in typical television “breaking news” style as he “uncovered” a plot against the special court. Many agree that his statements on the subject were more of a “hurrah,“ than a desperate SOS. It’s like saying, “Dear Taliban... thanking you in anticipation.”
From now on, any incident or alleged incident concerning the Taliban and the trial could give Musharraf the excuse and permission to leave the country. Musharraf’s lawyers know that once the trial begins (with formal indictment), the end will not be far. To avoid that end, many people can do many things in the “larger interest” of the state. Once caught in the act, the trained strategists, tacticians, planners et al, never leave things to chance. So why should we expect Musharraf to want a trial, let alone a fair one? Can we expect a trained commando to stand under a hanging noose to be judged? In an interview, Musharraf said, “anybody who tries to kill me… I will kill him first.” This is the self-defense rationale for the common person, but he’s been trained to kill as a commando, and as the head of the military, is it logical to assume he meant his words quite literally? What does he think of the special court judges who are trying him for treason; a charge that carries the death penalty?
General Musharraf has every right to express fears about his safety even if the trial itself holds an unsafe end for him. Unfortunately, the judges are never in a position to express their fears under the same circumstances. If they do, then they won’t be around to hear the case and this is exactly what the lawyers of the accused have always wanted; an anxious and intimidated judge who is vulnerable to fear and favouritism. There are already some indications of special court judges getting threatening messages from “unknown” sources, which the judges have not made public to their credit. One can understand their predicament.
A media source reports that the Islamabad court attack also had some link to Musharraf. Just after the attack in the Islamabad courts, it was suggested that the additional session judge who died had earlier rejected an application seeking registration of a murder FIR against Musharraf for the death of Khateeb Ghazi Abdul Rashid in the Lal Mosque operation. Reportedly, the judge, while dismissing the application remarked that it was filed to gain “cheap publicity.” In spite of a categoric denial by Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Lal mosque, this news report has got the attention of the media. Even the little known Ahrar Ul hind which claimed responsibility for the court attack did not make such a claim. However, this news report has made Musharraf’s case for the permanent exemption from the trial even stronger. Is this just a spin being applied onto an incident or is the incident itself a plea?
It is difficult and dangerous to point fingers at the state with what most of us dismiss as “conspiracy theories.” But in a country where state players are never absolved of involvement after the conclusive investigation of many high profile assassinations, not all claims of conspiracies can be dismissed as theories. In fact, some conspiracies are wrongly dismissed as theories after relevant stake holders do not gather the courage to further talk about them; because they are presumed to be against “national interest.” Intellectuals, politicians, even media persons have long been harbouring the supra-constitutional notion that the state is superior to the government. With this notion they tend not to see the acts of the services chief as treason. For them, even if the army chief didn’t fit into the legal framework of the government, he remains a “state necessity” and retains the right to be protected. This is where proponents of “Siasat nahi, Riasat bachao,“ (save the state, not the politics), come in. For such roadside political quacks and their masters, common people and their will (the constitution) is only “siasat;” to be sacrificed at the altar of “state necessity” even if it is to be done through non-state actors.
The writer is a senior supreme court reporter and anchor for Waqt News.