Pakistan's Sharif plans to try Musharraf for treason

In this photograph taken on April 20, 2013, former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf (C) is escorted by soldiers as he arrives at an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad Mr Musharraf has described all the cases brought against him as politically motivated

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Pakistan's new government has said it plans to put former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on trial for treason.

"He will have to answer for his guilt before the court," Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told parliament.

Mr Musharraf, who returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile earlier this year, is currently under house arrest.

He is fighting a series of charges relating to his time in power, which began with him ousting Nawaz Sharif in a 1999 military coup.

His spokesperson described the proposed move as "reckless and ill-conceived".

In Pakistan, treason carries with it a penalty of life imprisonment - or death.

Nawaz Sharif, whom the then Gen Musharraf ousted in 1999, would have preferred the caretaker government which oversaw recent elections to send him abroad under a deal, observers say. This did not happen, and Mr Sharif cannot afford to be seen to let the former general off the hook.

But it's a high-stakes game for the new prime minister and the military, which has been in power for most of the country's 66-year history and would be loath to see one of its former chiefs labelled a traitor.

Some suggest the military may have decided to sacrifice Mr Musharraf. The question is, once a trial is underway, will it really stop there? There are signs that both the judiciary and Mr Sharif would like it to.

But Mr Musharraf's lawyers point out there are at least 500 to 700 functionaries - politicians, generals and bureaucrats - who collaborated with him in the acts which are now being called illegal. And there are thousands - including senior judges - who facilitated the four military takeovers Pakistan has witnessed so far.

There is now little to stop the government putting Mr Musharraf on trial for treason, the BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad reports.

The military will be watching developments closely. If the trial goes ahead, it will be the first time an army chief will have been in the dock for violating the constitution in Pakistan, which has a history of military coups.

'Reckless'

The charge being considered against Mr Musharraf dates back to November 2007 when he suspended the constitution and imposed emergency rule.

"Musharraf violated the constitution twice," Mr Sharif told MPs. "He overthrew an elected government in 1999 and put everything into jeopardy. He sacked judges and imprisoned them."

Mr Sharif was reading from a statement that the attorney general submitted to the Supreme Court on Monday, in which the government set out its intention to try the former dictator for treason. Only the state can bring such a charge.

The court had already been hearing petitions from lawyers demanding that the former general be tried for placing senior judges under house arrest.

"Those who aided or abetted holding the constitution in abeyance will also be brought to justice," Attorney General Munir Malik said.

He asked for a month to prepare the charges but the court told him to report back on Thursday. The government says it will consult other parties on its plan.

Mr Musharraf's office released a statement saying that the former president had served his country with "selfless devotion and perseverance".

"The Nawaz Sharif government is demonstrating recklessness in its intention to pursue unwarranted treason charges against former President Musharraf," it added.

Array of charges

The former military ruler arrived in Pakistan earlier this year in high spirits saying he wanted to lead his party into May's elections.

But he was disqualified from standing and ultimately placed under house arrest at his villa in Islamabad. He is accused of:

  • Failing to provide enough security for murdered former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 when she returned to Pakistan to stand for election
  • Detaining senior judges in 2007

He has been granted bail in both of these cases.

However, he remains under house arrest because he was refused bail in connection with a charge relating to the assassination of the Baloch tribal leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, who was killed in a military operation in 2006.

Mr Musharraf has described all the cases brought against him as politically motivated.

After his 1999 coup, Mr Musharraf ruled Pakistan for nine years before being defeated in elections. He left the country to live in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London.

Mr Sharif returned to power last month, winning elections by a landslide.

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