Lawyers protest against Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf in Multan August 18, 2008.
The indictment of former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf by a special court has come when civilian rule in the country seems to be striking root and one term of the country’s National Assembly, its equivalent of Parliament, has been completed successfully, to be followed by another. The charges against General Musharraf are subverting the Constitution, imposing an emergency in the country and detaining judges. This is the first time that a Pakistan army chief, serving or retired, has been indicted by a court. It is not clear at this stage whether General Musharraf will be convicted. While this looks like an act of retribution by the judiciary for the arm-twisting it received at the hands of Mr Musharraf when he was in power, this can disturb the power equilibrium when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has appointed a new army chief without a hitch. It was not so long ago that there was talk of a military coup in Pakistan when the relations between then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani were rocky. It was upon the intervention of the US and then secretary of state Hillary Clinton that the possibility of a coup was averted and the army chief got a second term.
Under General Musharraf, judges in 2000 were compelled to take an oath of allegiance to his regime. However, the judiciary as an institution hit back in 2007 and refused to knuckle under even in the face of the threats from the army and intelligence agencies. What has happened now is a culmination of this process.
Until a decade ago it was said that the army had always been an autonomous institution in Pakistan even under a civilian government. No civilian government had taken on the army except for an occasional removal of a senior soldier from his position. But when Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as Pakistan’s chief justice led the lawyers’ movement against his suspension, the stir took the colour of a popular revolt. At this stage what needs to be observed is whether the army uses this as a handle to hit back at the judiciary and the executive. If it stays quiet, then it may be concluded that democracy has taken a step forward in Pakistan.