The Special Court’s indictment of former president General Pervez Musharraf will go down in Pakistan’s chequered history as the critical point of breaking the all-powerful hold of the country’s untouchable military institution. Having an ex-army chief in the docks and that too for treason, punishable by death, is a shocking development for the civilian and military leadership in the country. Musharraf’s indictment itself sets a precedent irrespective of whether he is allowed to leave the country on grounds of compassion to visit his ailing mother abroad or if he is made an example of at home if found guilty. What the indictment of March 31, however, might do would be to rein in any khakis secretly harbouring such aspirations.

But more significant is this moment’s call for introspection for each stakeholder, whether it’s the leadership in Islamabad or the GHQ or us, the civilians who have been privy to the politicking and chest thumping in the two power centres for decades. Especially for us, for we have elected leaders who have been in cahoots with some dictators and victims of others at one point or another. We have also hailed dictator turned presidents when their ‘stable political environments’ were conducive for the economy, when the fuel prices dipped and foreign investments poured in. But our loyalties too are as fickle as the leaders we pledge allegiance to, and we too lost no time in rallying behind the swelling tide of activism, judicial or electoral, when we felt restless with the king makers. So what do we do? switch sides and choose new allegiances in the name of a resurgent cause, and having elected our democratic leaders we step aside, loyal subjects that we are.

Alas, our activism is only confined to participating in organised protests, when we are swayed by the calls for change and eager to jump on a popular bandwagon and so we set forth to changing the face of politics, of society, of finally realising Jinnah’s Pakistan. But when it comes to taking to the street to protest against the shameful sentencing of a hapless minority citizen accused of blasphemy, or demanding an end to our subservient policies that have made a mockery of our national integrity and sovereignty, when we look the other way and only shake our heads in mock despair over the gang rape of a village woman on the orders of a panchayat (village elders council), we are the silent collaborators, the real traitors who have sold out our own country, our ideals and our pledge to the father of the nation who delivered us Pakistan.

As for Musharraf, in all honesty, does he deserve to be called a traitor for his actions in 2007? For those who proclaim to be defenders of the constitution, who abhor the khakis in the Aiwan-e-Sadr, he is the ultimate traitor, for it was he who dared usurp the Constitution, overthrow an elected government (years earlier, a crime not included in the current charge sheet for which he is indicted) and trample the sanctity of the parliament and the judiciary — the very two institutions whose own mantles are not spotless. Many of the judges have taken oath under him, the same “traitor” they now point fingers at. Many of our political leaders are the byproducts of military rulers, having been groomed, nurtured and sustained by them over the decades. And they are braying for his blood?

Musharraf’s greater crime was his whitewashing the crimes of the plunderers who looted Pakistan and laying out the red carpet for them with the hated National Reconciliation Ordinance. Power is a strange bedfellow; it washes away your crimes and propels you to heights where you are safe, away from the glare of the strobe lights of justice and out of reach of the dirty smatterings of your sins. And so turned out the fate of his NRO beneficiaries whose astuteness helped them stay out of the reach of the judiciary’s slippery grasp.

There is no doubt that the judiciary has come into its own as an independent and powerful pillar of the state, but care must be taken in how it evolves at this critical juncture. Questions are being raised about its impartiality, about why speedy justice is delivered in prosecuting some figures while months and years pass before even hope for a hearing comes for cases that demand immediate review. It may not be so and no doubt the judges deciding Musharraf’s crimes are acting in good faith in accordance with the sanctity of their profession, but the general’s trial and consequent indictment has come to resemble a witch-hunt.

Aspersions are also being cast at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for egging the judiciary to bring Musharraf to his knees in the playing out of a Medici style political vendetta. This does not bode well for Sharif’s administration or the judiciary’s image.

If Musharraf has to pay for his sins then the court should widen the ambit and book everyone who collaborated and benefitted from their links with military rulers in the past including the respected members of the judiciary. Why dangle the noose on a calendar year marked 2007? The irony here is that any such probe of the parliament’s directory would only return crimson markings on every page. And do we really want to go there?

Hasn’t Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) displayed magnanimity in forgiving the past sins of its arch-rival, the Pakistan Peoples Party and buried the hatchet with other sworn enemies? The third PML-N government was hailed as one that extended goodwill and adopted reconciliation for its political foes. Sharif’s a politically mature leader and it is hoped that he will be able to steer Pakistan out of its security and economic deadlock.

It is time Musharraf’s case is laid to rest. Far greater issues are looming ahead for Pakistan with critical political and security decisions to be made in lieu of the rapidly changing geostrategic dynamics. Gunning for Musharraf can only widen the fissures between the civilian leadership and the military, a prospect, which will not benefit anyone. And the truth is neither the Pakistan Army nor the civilians have much appetite for future coups. Musharraf’s tenure took good care of at least that part.