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Should Pakistan prosecute Musharraf?

Targeting only the former president would be unfair. But going after all guilty parties would destabilize the country. Parliament may just have to let the past be the past.

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Pressure is building in Pakistan to hold former President Pervez Musharraf accountable for constitutional violations. Failing to do so would cast doubt on Pakistan's prospects for establishing an independent judiciary. However, so would overlooking the comparable abuses of his contemporaries.

In the name of fairness, Pakistan's Supreme Court needs to try Mr. Musharraf and all of those who committed or abetted crimes. The problem is that this could cause major instability in the country. That leaves the court with only one prudent option: Try none of them.

The case against Musharraf is clear. Among his transgressions: a takeover of power through force; his decision to suspend Pakistan's constitution; his introduction of the 17th amendment, which allowed him to serve concurrently as president and Army chief; his firing of Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, and his imposition of emergency rule.

However, context matters. Many of those who are pushing for Musharraf to stand trial are themselves guilty of either committing unconstitutional acts or abetting them. For example, Chief Justice Chaudhry facilitated many of the general's abuses, and was, more generally, a strong ally of his for the better part of Musharraf's time in office.

Then there is Nawaz Sharif; he appears increasingly poised to become prime minister when general elections are held in 2012. Lest one take his recent statements about the rule of law at face value, he organized a mob of supporters to storm the Supreme Court on November 28, 1997, while it considered corruption charges against him.


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