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CHANGE WITHIN

The lure of a second stint at the helm of Pakistan, this time through the prescribed constitutional route, had drawn Pervez Musharraf like a moth to a flame in 2013. Unfortunately, he had not realized the change his country had undergone during his years in exile. If the unqualified defeat of Mr Musharraf’s political party (he himself was legally disallowed from contesting) in the 2013 elections showed that Pakistan in no way felt obliged to him, the beginning of treason proceedings against him showed the country’s seriousness in dealing with ghosts from the past that continue to bother it. Mr Musharraf is the first former army chief who is being tried by a civilian court for his alleged violations of the constitution, a crime army chiefs in Pakistan seem to habitually commit. Neither Mr Musharraf’s threats nor name-dropping, plea of sickness or appeal for humanitarian consideration have deflected Pakistan from its path. Despite the delay caused by Mr Musharraf’s failure to present himself before the court, he now stands indicted for overturning the constitution by imposing emergency in 2007, when he also suspended members of the judiciary. The charge was read out to Mr Musharraf when he recently appeared in court, having finally dragged himself out of an army hospital.

Clearly, a reordering has taken place in Pakistan’s power structure that now makes it eminently possible to think that a former member of the army — the country’s guardian angel — can be tried, held guilty, and even perhaps hanged for a constitutional violation. It is quite another matter whether Mr Musharraf’s trial will be taken to its logical conclusion. There will be several things the civilian establishment will have to balance — the sentiments of an army that remains crucial to Pakistan’s very being, its containment of the Taliban and its perennial security concerns; the eventuality that it may not be possible to judge Mr Musharraf’s misdeeds in complete isolation from the deeds of his civilian counterparts and the need to lessen the anxiety of the country’s religious mentor, that is, Saudi Arabia. Yet, there can be no denying the distance Pakistan has traversed in its mental universe by subjecting a former chief of army to a democratic process. Hopefully, Pakistan will not limit this process to either one person or any one institution, and will find the courage to measure other State institutions and individuals by the same gold standard.