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Editorial: Capping Military Rule

The Supreme Court’s upholding of Pervez Musharraf’s death sentence may serve as deterrence to any future attempts of subverting the Constitution

by Editorial

File photo. Farooq Naeem—AFP

The late Gen. (retd.) Pervez Musharraf—who ruled over Pakistan for nearly a decade—was sentenced to death in absentia by a special court in a high treason case in 2019, which was subsequently overturned by the Lahore High Court (LHC) a month later. The Supreme Court took up appeals against the suspension this week, setting aside the LHC ruling and upholding the death sentence over a failure of Musharraf’s legal heirs to pursue the case after his death in February 2023. This marks a historic event in Pakistan, punishing a former Army chief for subverting the Constitution, even if—obviously—there is no way for the sentence to be carried out after his passing.

Musharraf came to power in 1999 through a military coup, dissolving Parliament and ousting then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif from power. While this subversion of the Constitution was granted legal cover by the Supreme Court, his subsequent imposition of an emergency in 2007 was deemed illegal in 2009, resulting in the registration of a high treason against him in 2013 during Sharif’s third stint as prime minister. The “attack” on a former Army chief did not sit well with the military leadership, which facilitated his departure, on medical grounds, in 2016 to Dubai, where he remained until his death last year. Many observers see this as a key reason for Sharif’s latest rift with the establishment and eventual ouster through the Panama Papers case.

While the facts of the case may not appear particularly extraordinary, none of the military strongmen that have ruled Pakistan have previously faced any penalties for their violations of the Constitution. Prior to Musharraf, Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan undermined Pakistan’s democratic evolution by imposing the country’s first martial law in 1958. Next was Gen. Yahya Khan in 1969, which led to the secession of Dhaka. Then came Ziaul Haq in 1977, whose rule lasted until his death in 1988. Each military rule was propped up by the judiciary under the ‘Doctrine of Necessity.’ Musharraf’s reign, however, appeared to finally disenchant the public with military rule and it is hoped that the apex court’s upholding of his death sentence will serve as deterrence for any future attempts at the same.

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