ISLAMABAD – Pakistan announced Sunday it will put former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf on trial for treason, punishable by death or life imprisonment, for imposing emergency rule in 2007.
The decision puts the country’s civilian leaders on an unprecedented collision course with the all powerful military and comes after Musharraf was granted bail in other criminal cases, stoking rumors a deal for his departure could be imminent.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced the move in a live television broadcast.
“Following the judgment of the Supreme Court and a report submitted by an inquiry committee, it has been decided to start proceedings against Gen. Pervez Musharraf under Article 6 (high treason) of the constitution,” he said.
“It is happening for the first time in the history of Pakistan and the decision has been taken in the national interest.”
The minister said the country’s chief justice on Monday would receive a letter from the government requesting a tribunal of three high court judges to start the proceedings.
The same day, the government was also to announce a special prosecutor.
The latest accusation against Musharraf revolves around his decision in 2007 to impose emergency rule shortly before the Supreme Court was due to decide on the legality of his re-election as president a month earlier while he was still army chief.
Political analyst Hasan Askari said the move by the government appears to be aimed at deflecting criticism over its failure on various fronts including law and order and the economy.
But he warned moving against an ex-army chief is counterproductive and will likely fail.
“The government would not be successful in this move because it has no credibility,” Askari said. “The government is taking an uncharted course of action which would involve a lot of complications and may add to its headaches,” he added.
Askari said that the army, which has ruled the country for half of its existence since 1947, will not be happy over the decision.
Afshan Adil, a member of Musharraf’s legal team and representative of his All Pakistan Muslim League, denounced the decision but said her leader is not afraid.
“We are not worried over this decision by government. We will face this case like all other cases and we have come out clean in all of those,” Adil said.
“The government has brought up this case now to divert the attention from its failure to protect people,” she added.
Authorities have come under fire for failing to prevent sectarian clashes that left nine dead and 60 injured in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Friday, which remains under curfew after troops were called in to hold the peace.
Raza Bokhari, a spokesman of Musharraf, criticized the move calling it an attempt to undermine Pakistan’s military.
“We view with grave suspicion the timing of the announcement by the Taliban-sympathetic Nawaz government to initiate treason proceedings against former President Musharraf,” Bokhari said in a statement referencing the current government’s willingness to hold peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
“We not only forcefully reject these charges, but also view them as a vicious attempt to undermine the Pakistan military.”
Musharraf is already facing three other major criminal cases dating back to his 1999-2008 rule, including one related to the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
There have been rumors in recent months that a deal will be reached for Musharraf to leave Pakistan without going through with his trials.
The speculation gained momentum after he asked a court last week to let him leave the country to visit his sick mother in Dubai. The court was expected to rule on the application Monday.
Khan, the interior minister, said that three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government came to power five months ago but has never demonstrated any “revengeful” gesture toward Musharraf.
Musharraf overthrew Sharif’s government in a bloodless military coup in October 1999, but a year later the Supreme Court validated the takeover.
During the 2007 period of emergency rule he suspended the constitution and parliament, and sacked top judges who declared his actions unconstitutional and illegal.
Musharraf technically became a free man this month when an Islamabad district court granted him bail over a deadly raid on a radical mosque in the capital in 2007.
He left the country in 2008 following Pakistan’s return to democracy, and returned in March this year to contest elections that marked the first time one civilian government handed over power to another.
But his return was far from the triumphant occasion he had hoped for.
He was barred from contesting the general election, which was won convincingly by Sharif — the man he ousted from power in 1999 — and was hit with a series of criminal cases dating back to his rule.
Apart from the mosque raid, he faces charges over Bhutto’s murder at an election rally in 2007 and the death of a Baluch rebel leader in 2006.
He was put under house arrest in April, itself an unheard-of move against a former army chief.