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Home / Editorials / The judiciary-military tangle in Pakistan

The judiciary-military tangle in Pakistan

Its different power centres are asserting themselves. There is uncertainty ahead

editorials Updated: Dec 18, 2019 19:25 IST
Hindustan Times
A special court in Pakistan has sentenced the country’s former military ruler, Pervez Muharraf, to death. While opposing the sentence, the military said Mr Musharraf can never be a traitor
A special court in Pakistan has sentenced the country’s former military ruler, Pervez Muharraf, to death. While opposing the sentence, the military said Mr Musharraf can never be a traitor(Hindustan Times)

The death sentence given to former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in a treason case is unprecedented in Pakistan, where the army has ruled for almost half of the country’s history and continues to play an outsized role. The verdict by a special court, handed down in a case against Mr Musharraf for imposing emergency in 2007, has clearly embarrassed and angered the military. While opposing the sentence, the military said Mr Musharraf can never be a traitor.

Mr Musharraf had once famously remarked that Pakistan’s Constitution was just a piece of paper to be thrown in the dustbin. This cavalier attitude had characterised his years as both army chief and then Pakistan’s ruler, from the decision to send troops to occupy strategic heights in the Kargil sector, which led to a conflict with India, or his move to take on the judiciary in 2007, which ultimately led to his downfall.

Pakistan’s judiciary has had a complicated and complex relationship with both the military and the civilian government, sometimes adopting an unnecessary role as a power arbitrator. The death sentence will have far-reaching ramifications, and could trigger uncertainty, as Pakistan’s different power centres seek to assert themselves. It remains to be seen whether the verdict will send out a message that the generals can no longer interfere in politics and grab power, or whether the military, which in recent years, has begun shaping electoral outcomes to suit its needs instead of assuming power directly, will ensure it remains the dominant force. But it, nonetheless, represents a significant moment in the country’s complex polity.