ISLAMABAD – Former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s trial for treason, which had been due to open Tuesday, was postponed until Jan. 1 after explosives were found near the road he was to take to court.
The 70-year-old had been expected to appear in person before a specially convened court in the capital Islamabad, after legal efforts to have the tribunal ruled invalid failed.
The treason allegations are the latest in a series of serious criminal charges relating to Musharraf’s 1999-2008 rule brought since he returned from exile in March.
His aides and lawyers have dismissed the cases as politically motivated, accusing the government and others of trying to use the courts to settle old scores.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who won a third term in May’s general election, was the man Musharraf ousted when he seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.
It is the first time in Pakistan’s history that a former military ruler has been put on trial for treason and the case puts the government on a collision course with the all-powerful army, which faces the embarrassment of having its former chief tried by civilians.
The treason charges relate to Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule in November 2007 and if found guilty he could face the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Justice Faisal Arab, heading the three-member bench at the special court, adjourned the hearing to Jan. 1 after police found explosives, a detonator and two pistols close to the route Musharraf was due to take from his house to the court.
Muhammad Asjad, the police chief for Chak Shahzad, the Islamabad suburb where Musharraf lives, said the material had not been assembled into a bomb.
Musharraf was the man who led Pakistan into its uneasy alliance with the U.S. in the “war on terror” and the Taliban have made repeated threats to kill him.
After the discovery, his lawyer Anwar Mansoor Khan told the court that the former general would not be able to attend because of serious security threats to his life.
Musharraf is expected to attend the next hearing, where state prosecutor Naseer-ud-din Khan Nayyar said charges would be read out to him.
The court will also consider two petitions filed by Musharraf’s 10-strong legal team challenging the authority of the special court and objecting to the appointment of the prosecutor.
Since returning from self-imposed exile in March to run in the May general election, Musharraf has faced a range of serious criminal cases dating back to his 1999-2008 rule.
These include murder charges over the assassination in late 2007 of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, as well as the death of a rebel leader, a deadly military raid on a radical mosque and the detention of judges.
Musharraf was put under house arrest in April, but he has been granted bail in all of the cases against him and is technically a free man, though the threats to his life mean he lives under heavy guard.
The cases have ground through Pakistan’s notoriously slow legal system, moving from adjournment to adjournment with little clear progress made apart from the granting of bail.
There have been persistent rumors that a deal would be struck to let him leave Pakistan before facing the courts to avoid a clash between the army and government.
But no deal has been forthcoming and last week, speaking publicly for the first time since his house arrest began, Musharraf vowed to stay and fight to clear his name.
On Monday the Sindh High Court said it was unable to grant an application by Musharraf to have a travel ban lifted so he could visit his sick mother in Dubai, saying only the government could make the order.