The General Vs The Pen – Barrister Masroor Shah

As a child I would often laugh at the idiom: ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. Later in life, my experiences as a litigation lawyer in Pakistan further fortified my childhood belief.

Then came the second day of January, 2014 – the day former military dictator General Retired Pervez Musharraf was directed in most categorical terms to appear before the Special Court to face a high treason trial under Article 6 of the constitution or face arrest. As per media reports, Musharraf left his palatial farmhouse to appear before the court but could not bear the pressure and instead of facing justice, rushed to the hospital.

I took a deep breath, leaned back and took a trip down memory lane. Was this the same General Pervez Musharraf who in 1999 crushed the constitution of this country under his gumboots?

Was this the same Gen Musharraf who used to ordain at the top of his voice that the era of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif was over and they would never come back to this country? Was it the same Gen Musharraf who brushed aside the restraining order of the Supreme Court on November 3 and incarcerated the honourable judges merely to give another lease of life to his presidential term?

Moreover, was this the same Gen Musharraf upon whose orders several senior bureaucrats and politicians were arrested in midnight raids on their homes without any warrant from any court, without any specified offence only on the basis of hearsay? I still recall the way the military officers laughed when advised to follow the law and ensure that the rights bestowed upon the arrested persons by the Criminal Procedure Code were respected.

Was it the same Gen Musharraf who tortured politicians and senior bureaucrats in the 4×6 dungeons of the infamous Attock Fort without heeding the law on police remand and territorial jurisdiction of the courts?

The general who used to show his fist to the nation while donning a military uniform in public rallies? Apparently, the former commando did all this only on the strength of the sword he held in his hand. He thought that with the sword in his hand he could subdue all.

However, the 2nd January episode and events occurring thereafter have strengthened my faith in the majesty of law. The same general, who with all his might discarded the constitution of this country, is now attempting to shield himself with the same constitution and begging for the fundamental rights prescribed therein.

The same general who denied legal rights to those arrested under the NAB Ordinance during his military rule is now seeking protection of the same law. The self-proclaimed popular leader of this country who carved a political party for himself through coercion and intimidation is now helpless and politically orphaned.

The same former commando who ridiculed the courts of this country in sheer arrogance of his sword and detained and arrested the honourable judges of the country is now so scared to face three unarmed judges that he could not even complete the 11km journey to the special court and ended up in hospital.

The ongoing Musharraf trial has enabled us as a nation to achieve a milestone in our history – a military dictator has succumbed to the majesty of the law and the constitution which he and his predecessors considered as a mere piece of paper. The way Gen Musharraf fled from the Islamabad High Court after cancellation of his bail and later from the Special Court is a chilling testimony to the fact that dictators, no matter how mighty they may be, cannot stand the aura of constitutionalism.

Several hearings have been set over the weeks but Pervez Musharraf is avoiding his appearance in court by sticking to his hospital bed apparently on account of illnesses, which are no better than the typical excuses a naughty schoolboy coins for bunking school.

No matter the fate of the trial, I believe that the fundamental purpose of the trial under Article 6 has been achieved. The might of the sword has been subdued before law and democracy. Now whether the person of Pervez Musharraf remains incarcerated in Pakistan or fades away in history in a remote chalet in some faraway foreign land, it is totally immaterial.

The general had to give in to the pressure of the pen of a judge. Irrespective of the outcome of the trial, my faith in the strength and might of the pen has been established.