Trial in the media
But for the electronic media’s ballyhoo about a former general’s trial and the over publicized behavior of his lawyers in court, the proceedings would not have generated the storm they have across the country.
Our television anchors in their talk shows vie with each other in the race to raise their ratings caring little for propriety and decorum. Barring a few, most have specialized in the art of blowing issues out of proportion and provoking participants into no-holds-barred cock fights.
Even sub-judice cases in higher courts are taken up for media trials disregarding time honored traditions of restraint and conduct.
Yes, the Musharraf trial is no ordinary case and was bound to attract notice and publicity all over the country but the way it has been allowed to assume the shape of a town circus reflects the shenanigans of an aberrant media.
It also manifests the birth-pangs of a difficult transition. This transition of power from the military to civil administration is intrinsically a problematic one.
The rationale trotted out by the army chiefs when they take over the country, usually consists of a litany of incompetence and co-option on the part of the politicians. For almost half of the country’s history, the military has ruled the roost. Even after the return of democracy, GHQ has besecurity and external affairen throwing its weight in matters pertaining to s. Here one has to recognize and acknowledge the commendable role played by General Kayani who helped, to a considerable extent, to shift the mind-set of the military. Kayani volunteered to detach military personnel from civilian jobs and distanced the military from political maneuverings during the elections.
His successor, chosen by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has followed the path set by General Kayani. This has been manifestly demonstrated in his going along with the political decision to open up dialogue with the Taliban (TTP). However, with regard to the sensitive case of the trial of General Musharraf, an untoward situation has arisen primarily because of the high-voltage reverberations in the media and the Parliament. The accused General has understandably been trying to avoid appearing before the court.
He spent quite some time in the hospital and has also been seeking to secure permission to fly to Dubai to visit his ailing mother. His indictment and refusal by the court and the administration to let him go, along with comments from two PML-N ministers, has seemingly evoked a reaction from the army high command. The COAS General Raheel Sharif expressed his resolve to protect the dignity (“waqar”) of the army. This according to an ISPR press release was said in response to certain reservations expressed by the personnel present at the meeting about the comments made about Musharraf and the armed forces in the media and Parliament.
It needs to be mentioned here that some of the TV channels went out of their way to exhibit an eight year old speech delivered by Khawaja Asif in the National Assembly (without indicating the time of the speech), made in separate context and delivered by one who had been mistreated at the hands of the former general. Khawaja Saad Rafiq too has explained that his remarks were directed at Musharraf and not the army as an institution which he both respected and admired.
It is time that the Prime Minister sorts out the misunderstanding by directly talking to the army chief. The Prime Minister should also ensure that during the pendency of the trial of Musharraf, politicians and especially the ministers abstain from issuing statements about the case. Further, that the TV channels resist the temptation of staging a trial in the talk shows. The Lahore High Court Chief Justice, a few weeks back, took notice of the media discussions of active cases under trial and suggested to PEMRA to take necessary action in this regard.
As for General Musharraf, he would be well-advised to accept the majesty of the law and plead his case bravely in the courts. He had subverted the constitution and wrongfully dismissed the highest ranking judges of the country. He violated the constitutional oath he took and disobeyed the advice given by the Quaid-e-Azam in his address to the army personnel in Quetta. He must face the consequences of his acts of commission and omission and should not appear to be running away from the trial ordered by the Supreme Court and the government of Pakistan. By submitting himself to the dictates of the highest law of the land, he would be atoning, to some extent, for his unpardonable crimes against the country and the people.
It is also vital that the media, politicians and civil society realize the overwhelming importance of the ongoing transition to democracy and should not imperil the prospects of a burgeoning democratic system.
Again, for democracy to take firm root in the country, the government will have to perform well and resolve the problems besetting it. Above all it must succeed in bringing peace to this conflict and terrorist ridden land. The economy has to be revived and strengthened and steps taken to tighten belts. The poor and the disadvantaged must be helped in various ways especially by providing avenues for employment.
So much indeed has to be done and fast that we can ill afford indulging cavalierly, playing games with each other and weakening our capacity to meet our many challenges.
I close this column by referring to the observations made by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani who said “Today Pakistan is at a crossroads and facing an existential threat” adding that the biggest challenge faced by the judiciary was maintaining an equilibrium between constitutional guarantees and national security at a time when the country was at war for survival.
Wise words these, and much food for thought for our civil and military stakeholders.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.