ISLAMABAD: On a day when the people of Rawalpindi were anxiously waiting for an official announcement about the state of curfew in their city, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan broke, out of the blue, a jaw-dropping story about his government’s decision to formally prosecute former president General Pervez Musharraf under Article 6 of the Constitution.
Media personnel waited with bated breath at a hurriedly called press conference by the interior minister on Sunday evening to give details about Friday night’s sectarian violence which forced the government to impose a curfew in the garrison city.
And as if this wasn’t enough to grab and divert the media attention which was intensively focused on the sectarian killings, Chaudhry Nisar also announced the formation of a three-member FIA committee to investigate what is known as the Asghar Khan case, distribution of money by agencies among politicians for rigging the 1990 general elections.
The Supreme Court had already given a ruling in the case in October 2012, but the previous PPP government virtually sat on it. Analysts and the opposition termed the government’s move a diversionary tactic to cover up its failure to douse the flame of sectarian killings on the Ashura day despite the so-called elaborated security arrangements made by the government across the country.
Even before formally starting the press conference, Chaudhry Nisar took media personnel by surprise when he said he had come to speak on an important issue other than the sectarian violence. He advised journalists not to ask any question about the Rawalpindi incident and said he had come to talk about something ‘really important’.
In his brief statement on the Rawalpindi violence, the minister said that both the federal and provincial governments were continuously monitoring the situation which, according to him, was under control. He expressed the hope that the situation would improve in a day or two. “I am in constant touch with the Punjab chief minister.”
Chaudhry Nisar likened the Rawalpindi incident to the killing of Taliban leader Hakeemullah Mehsud which, he said, had spoiled efforts by the government for a peaceful Muharram. “We worked hard to hold talks with the TTP, but one drone strike destroyed the whole peace process, and now just one incident has overshadowed exemplary coordination and arrangements put in place for Muharram throughout the country.”
He said the government had ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident and those found responsible would be taken to task. The government, he added, was in contact with religious scholars of both sides and they were responding well.
Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, a member of the National Assembly from Rawalpindi, said that by going ahead with the trial of Gen Musharraf the government only wanted to divert people’s attention from a situation which he warned would turn grave in coming weeks.
Defence analyst retired Lt Gen Talat Masood said that by asking the SC for a special court, the government was shifting its responsibility to courts.
Jahangir Tarin of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf said that at a time when the government should focus on the Rawalpindi tragedy it was feeding the media with such stories.
Musharraf’s trial: Breaking the real story, Chaudhry Nisar said his ministry would write to the Supreme Court on Monday for setting up a three-member commission comprising high courts judges to start a case against Gen Musharraf under Article 6.
However, the government later clarified that the interior minister actually meant to say “setting up a special court under the criminal law amendment act XVII of 1976” for the trial of the former military ruler Article 6.
“On the basis of an inquiry report completed by the FIA into the Nov 3, 2007 emergency imposed by the former president, the interior secretary will write to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to nominate three judges of high courts to proceed against the accused,” Chaudhry Nisar said. For prosecution, he said, the government would soon appoint a public prosecutor general.
He claimed absolute fairness in the FIA-led inquiry against the former army chief, who at present is a free man after securing bails in multiple cases, and said that the government was going by the book and would present the report of the inquiry before the special court.
When asked what action would be taken against people in the then civilian government and military establishment who had helped Gen Musharraf in the imposition of the emergency, the minister said it’s too early to say anything because the three-member special court would take up the case.
He refused to share with the media findings of the report which he said would be presented in the special court as evidence against the former president for violating the constitution.
A lawyer told Dawn that once the special court was set up the government would use all available resources, including the FIA report, to get Gen Musharraf indicted under treason charges. The former president can also defend himself. “It’s quite a time-consuming process and one shouldn’t expect an immediate outcome of this particular case,” the lawyer said.
In another significant announcement, the interior minister said the government had decided to implement the apex court’s decision on the famous Asghar Khan petition. “A three-member committee of well-reputed officials of the FIA will carry out the probe as ordered by the Supreme Court,” he said. “Unlike the previous government, this government will wholeheartedly implement each and every decision of the SC.”
In its ruling, the Supreme Court had directed the government to investigate through the FIA how the money (Rs140 million) was distributed by secret agencies among politicians to rig the 1990 general elections which resulted in the formation of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.