LAHORE - As former military president Pervez Musharraf is facing serious charges of high treason before a special court on the allegations of subverting the constitution, strong voices are being aired by different quarters about his leaving the country before or after initiation of the trial.
Besides the internal forces, there are rumours about involvement of Saudi Arabia and United States in efforts for the release of Musharraf. This begs the question how much it is easy or difficult for the former dictator to go abroad when he is now facing heat from a single, though most serious, case. The retired general had been granted bails by the courts in another four high profile cases including Benazir Bhutto assassination, Nawab Akbar Bugti murder, May 12 Karachi carnage and Lal Masjid operation.
Without prejudice to the pending proceedings against Musharraf before the Trial Court, jurists are of the view that despite high treason charges, which attract up to life punishment on conviction, the doors are still open for going abroad of the former iron man, who enjoyed carte blanche in the civil rule for about nine years wearing the cap of an army chief and rob of the president at the same time.
Although Musharraf has refused to beg for concession whatsoever from the government and the latter has also put its foot down to not let him escape the trial, the jurists say the law still provides remedy to Musharraf on the basis of his ill health or any other genuine reason which the law accepts as sufficient for the safety of the life of the accused. The discovery of explosive material, suicide jackets etc on the route of Musharraf from Chak Shahzad farm to the venue of court and the recent heart stroke to him may provide that legal ground.
It appears quite naïve but can make Musharraf’s leaving the country possible if the Interior Ministry-controlled FIA, withdraws the present case and also lifts name of Musharraf from the Exit Control List (ECL) after the Sindh High Court had left this matter to the choice of the government. But so far it sounds a remote possibility so the legal propositions feel weightier than any outside consideration. The special court has to follow the criminal code of procedure (CrPC) about award of relief to the accused.
Expert on criminal law and former Advocate General Punjab Khwaja Harris Ahmad, former Law Minister Khalid Ranjha, senior advocate Aftab Bajwa and others find the medical ground a good plea in the hand of Musharraf for getting relief from the trial court and if it refuses, to move the next step of appeal before High Court then the Supreme Court. According to their view, if on the plea of Musharraf for exemption from appearance and treatment outside the country, the court seeks opinion on his state of health from a medical board and concludes that he was seriously ill and the ailment may cost him life and he needs to be treated abroad, it can grant him relief. But there are big ‘ifs and buts’ involved in relief on this score.
According to Khwaja Haris, in criminal law, presence of an accused person is not an absolute necessity and the court can admit an accused to relief dispensing with his appearance even on securing surety bonds from him. Even at the time of indictment, he says, the accused can be represented through his lawyers on being authorised and they can also stand surety for his appearance on court call. He cited the NAB cases when the court had in absentia framed charges against a number of accused. As to appearance of the accused from abroad, he said, there are various means to effect the appearance, including that of Interpol. He quoted the examples of Tauqeer Sadiq and the accused in Haris Steel mill case who were brought back through that channel. However, he said the presence of the accused was necessary for recording his statement (under section 342 Cr PC) and at the time of passing decision.
Dr Khalid Ranja and Aftab Bajwa are more on less have the same opinion that trial of Musharraf cannot take place without involving all others who were privy to the November 3, 2007 PCO and State of Emergency which have emanated treason charges against him. Dr Ranjha says trial against Musharraf is being held on a private complaint moved by the government which in the legal terminology is not an ordinary ‘parson’ to miss the vital aspect of bringing the other co-accused to the docks in the same case. He says trial of only Musharraf infringes his fundamental rights and smacks of ‘dishonesty’. Ranjha says a private complaint can be withdrawn by the complainant at any stage of the trail.
Aftab Bajwa says case against Musharraf vitiates when other co-accused have not been roped in. In his view, the court can exempt a person from appearance when other co-accused are named in the case but it is hard when there is a sole accused. However, he said, medical ground can become basis even for a lone accused to relief. He also views necessary the appearance of accused at the time of indictment when his thumb impressions are needed on the charge sheet.