[Dawn 26 November 2019] ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: In a surprise move, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government on Monday came in aid of Pervez Musharraf, seeking deferment of the announcement of the verdict in the high treason case registered against the former dictator for suspending the Constitution.
In a fresh petition that was interestingly identical to an application filed by Mr Musharraf’s lawyer, the PTI government even ‘disowned’ the complaint filed by the previous government against him under Article 6 [High Treason] and requested the Islamabad High Court that “the special court be restrained from passing final judgement in the trial”.
The case, filed during the PML-N government, has been pending since December 2013.
Recently, Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa categorically said the judiciary never took pressure as it had removed two elected prime ministers and is also going to announce verdict in a case against the ex-dictator.
The fresh move came days before a final verdict is to be announced by the special court in the case, which had been filed against Mr Musharraf for declaring a state of emergency on Nov 3, 2007. It lasted till the middle of December during which the Constitution remained suspended.
Gen Musharraf, who has already been declared absconder, and the incumbent government separately submitted identical petitions before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to stop the special court from pronouncing the verdict.
The government petition was filed by the interior ministry through the additional attorney general.
While the incumbent Interior Minister retired brigadier Ejaz Shah had served as director general of the Intelligence Bureau in the Musharraf regime, incumbent Law Minister Farogh Nasim and Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan were the counsel for the former military ruler before assuming their current offices.
A full bench comprising IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani on Tuesday (today) afternoon will hear both the petitions seeking to restrain the special court from pronouncing the verdict.
The special court — comprising Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) Waqar Seth, Justice Nazar Akbar of the Sindh High Court (SHC) and Justice Shahid Karim of the LHC — had on Nov 19 reserved the judgement in the case. The court said the verdict would be announced on Nov 28 on the basis of available record.
In the fresh petition, the interior ministry pointed out that the complaint had neither been filed through an authorised person nor had the special court been formed properly.
Citing a judgement of the Supreme Court in Mustafa Impex case, the interior ministry argued that the decision to file complaint against Gen Musharraf was not taken under the guidelines of the apex court.
Interestingly, a similar point had been raised in the petition filed by Barrister Salman Safdar, who was barred by the special court from representing the ‘absconder’ in the treason case.
The interior ministry claimed that the prosecution team was appointed in an arbitrary manner while the head of the prosecution Mohammad Akram Sheikh resigned “unilaterally” despite the fact that the interior ministry wanted him to conclude the case.
According to the petition, the prosecution team was removed after loopholes in the case were identified yet the prosecution team submitted written arguments before the court without any authorization of the interior ministry.
The government said that there could be some other accused in this case who had abetted Gen Musharraf in the declaring a state of emergency on Nov 3, 2007 but the ex-military ruler was “singled out and is facing solo trial”.
The counsel for the ex-dictator in his petition also stated that his client “has been implicated as the sole accused in the high treason case, with no other persons being investigated in connection with the alleged offence”.
The petition stated that Gen Musharraf had appeared before the special court despite imminent threats to his life and left Pakistan for medical treatment after the then PML-N government removed his name from the Exit Control List (ECL).
He submitted that Gen Musharraf engaged him as counsel for his expertise in criminal and constitutional law, as the matter of high treason required great technical knowledge and expertise but he was stopped from representing the ailing ex-president.
The order was ‘contradictory’ in removing the counsel on the grounds that the accused person had lost his right to representation but then a new counsel with less knowledge, experience and expertise was appointed on recommendation of the complainants, the counsel added.
Meanwhile, hearing a separate petition seeking to stop the special court from pronouncing judgement in the case, the LHC on Monday asked the counsel for Mr Musharraf to come up with more arguments on the competency of the petition.
The LHC judge took up the petition as “objection case” after the registrar office had questioned maintainability of the petition on the ground of territorial jurisdiction.
As Advocates Khwaja Tariq Rahim and Azhar Siddique were at the rostrum to represent Gen Musharraf, Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi asked, “Can a citizen of Islamabad approach the Lahore High Court?”
The judge also asked if the petitioner was a resident of Islamabad to which Advocate Rahim responded in the affirmative. “Then how this petition can be heard at the Lahore High Court?” the judge questioned.
At this, the counsel argued that the LHC had also entertained a petition by former premier Nawaz Sharif though he had been convicted by a trial court of Islamabad.
Justice Naqvi observed that Mr Sharif was a resident of Lahore.
The counsel argued that Mr Musharraf approached the LHC under Article 199 of the Constitution for the protection of his fundamental rights.
The judge asked the counsel to address the question of territorial jurisdiction first. The judge further sought assistance from the counsel on a point that the LHC was competent to hear the petition in hand despite the matter was also pending before the Supreme Court.
Justice Naqvi later adjourned proceedings till Tuesday (today) for hearing further arguments of the counsel.
The petition said Musharraf had been unable to return to Pakistan due to his medical condition while the special court declared him proclaimed offender on June 19, 2016 and also seized his family property.
It stated that the trial did not continue for two years till Sept 10, 2018 when the special court reconvened the proceedings on a daily basis in the absence of the accused.
The petition asked the high court to grant an injunctive relief to Musharraf and suspend the special court’s decision besides staying the trial in absentia until his physical appearance before it.
It referred to the 2016 judgement of “Mustafa Impex” by the Supreme Court and argued that the rights of the petitioner be enforced and trial be reinitiated after the proper procedure contained in the judgement.
The petition said Musharraf be “allowed to lead evidence in his defence” and to provide answers to the questions already prepared for him by the special court. It sought a direction for the special court to decide a pending application under Section 265-K of the Code of Criminal Procedure for his acquittal at the earliest.
Musharraf had left the country in March 2016 after the interior ministry removed his name from ECL letting him to travel abroad on medical grounds. However, he failed to return to face the trial and the court finally declared him a proclaimed offender.