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And treason for all

BY K H U R R A M H US A I N 2016-03-17
TREASON allegations have become so common now in Pakistan that even cricketers are not immune. A lawyer wants to file a treason case again Shahid Afridi for saying he feels more loved in India than in Pakistan. The headlines have carried a steady drumbeat of `treason cases` against leaders of the MQM since at least last summer.

Hardly anyone has actually read the definition of treason in the Constitution. To refresh some memories, this is how Article 6 defines it: `Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance, the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.

And clause 2 of the same Article: `Any person aiding or abetting [or collaborating] the acts mentioned in clause (1) shall likewise be guilty of high treason.

The punishment laid down in a separate act is death or life imprisonment. And then this little technicality: `No court shall take cognisance of an offence punishable under this act except upon a complaint in writing made by a person authorised by the federal government in this behalf.

Yet through this whole drama, the sad part is that the one person who can most clearly be accused of having committed high treason is squirming to get out of the country. That person is Pervez Musharraf.

This is what his 2007 proclamation of emergency said: `I, hereby, order and proclaim that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan shall remain in abeyance.

But the general is on his way out, while his coalition partner from his days of rule is left facing a growing likelihood of facing charges of treason, if the allegations that they received funding from RAW are proved. There is something uniquely Pakistani about this irony.

Now don`t get me wrong. The allegations against the MQM are serious and must be investigated to the fullest, and if proved, due punishment must be meted out. But show-stopping allegations like treason have a way of dilating, and the danger that soon everybody will be accusing everybody else of trea-son is increasing. The Shahid Afridi affair is only the latest example.

Social media offers more. One fellow, with particularly strong opinions, for instance writes on twitter that `If MQM is not tried for treason then we can easily infer that all the governments are also involved in anti-state activities`. Yes, that`s what happens when we chalk up such allegations based on inferences: almost any dilation becomes safe and soon everybody can be accused of thecrime in question.

On February 26, for example, an FIR in Sachal police station in Karachi was filed against the MQM leadership because of a speech in which the FIR says the party chief used obscene language.

The FIR accused the chief of `moral treason`, and booked the accused under the telegraph act.

Those who have seen the video of the speech will tell you that it is truly a bizarre one, and borders on the obscene in places. It is also true that the women present during the event were visibly uncomfortable.

But what exactly is `moral treason`? There are enough provisions in the law to proceed on such a complaint, why bring treason into it? The next day several news outlets announced the registration of the FIR as a `treason case filed against the MQM leadership` or some such. It would have been simpler to just say that an FIR has been lodged, and give the nature of the complaint.

There is a tendency amongst some of us to get so carried away by our anger that we are willing tohurl any accusation at anybody simply to cause injury and feel vindicated. But the recent rounds of allegations against the MQM are far too serious an affair to proceed on emotionally.

Having followed cases where money trails have to be established, I can confirm that building a treason case out of facts like money flowing into and out of an account is not a simple matter, and confessional statements of a few individuals will also not be enough to establish culpability in so serious an affair. Even account statements shared by Sarfaraz Merchant, if they show the identity of the party sending the money, will not be admissible in court without being verified by the bank in question, and obtaining that bank`s compliance, considering it is based in Dubai, will prove another challenge. And even after that, linking the sender to RAW will be the next hurdle.

I am as keen as anybody else to ensure that foreign intelligence agencies, particularly from countries that we have a history of enmity with, do not get into the business of funding political activity in Pakistan. But it is equally necessary that allegations of doing so are not bandied about casually, because it cheapens an otherwise serious offence.

The last thing we all want to see is a situation where treason takes its place next to blasphemy as the show-stopping allegation that is used to silence dissent and attack political opponents.

Newspapers have found themselves facing treason allegations from random individuals on social media, who managed to circulate the allegations enough to cause them to trend widely, simply for carrying an article or a headline which some folks disapproved of. Another news outlet found itself facing blasphemy allegations for airing content that is commonly used during weddings, because it was on the wrong side of the establishment in those days.

Nothing can be more frivolous than accusing Shahid Afridi of committing treason because of one statement he made in India, and the episode should walce us up to the fact that this business is far too serious to be bandied about casually. • The writer is a member of staff. Twitter:@khurramhusain