If the sentence of capital punishment that held former army chief general Pervez Musharraf guilty of treason in Tuesday’s short order came as a jolt, the detailed verdict was nothing short of a judicial bombshell.

The tone of the verdict that was released yesterday was horrifying in places – and indicated a troubling descent into medievalism. Have we really become so brutalised as a society that we can order the corpse of a convict who dies before he is executed to be dragged to a public square and strung up for three days?

Two of the three judges on the special court bench had found Mr Musharraf guilty and sentenced him to death – a punishment that this paper deplores under any circumstances. And it was one of them, justice Waqar Seth, who spelt out the graphic punishment.

It is to be hoped that this minority view does not obscure the underlying significance of the judgement – that is, it is for the first time in this country that a former army chief has been found guilty of high treason. Critically, the 2-1 verdict had raised some other serious constitutional questions, including on the role of those who had aided Mr Musharraf in his November 3, 2007 misadventure. One hopes that the tone of the judgement will not obscure these relevant aspects.

Future direction

Taking their cue from a meeting between the prime minister and the incumbent army chief, both the ISPR and the government’s ministers have weighed in on the matter. The government has decided to approach the supreme judicial council for the removal of justice Seth on the grounds that he is “unfit” to be a judge, and is to separately file an appeal against the verdict in the supreme court. That is its right.

On his part, rising to the defence of his institution, a visibly emotional DG ISPR criticised the verdict’s language, saying that it went against “humanity and religion”, a point that many would have endorsed.

In this troubling atmosphere, it is time for all institutions to take a step back in order to avoid a head-on collision. The government will be pursuing the matter legally, which is the correct thing to do. The prime minister’s advice of restraint is timely and must be followed, instead of government ministers and institutions targeting the judiciary that safeguards the Constitution.

The judgement, notwithstanding its disturbing language in places, forms the basis for a frank and robust debate on the direction in which Pakistani democracy is headed and on whether there is a need for course correction.

Equally important is a discussion on Pakistani society and how it can avoid the minefields of the tribal, anachronistic mores that lie in its path to progress. Without introspection, the country will continue to slide towards anarchy, a situation that anti-state elements will be only to keen to exploit.

This article first appeared in Dawn.