A Pakistani court indicted former military ruler Pervez Musharraf with high treason for suspending the constitution in 2007, a move that threatens to increase tensions between the army and government.
The indictment by a three-member special bench constituted to conduct the trial makes Musharraf the first army chief to be tried for sedition in a country ruled by the military for more than half of its 67-year history. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif needs the support of his defense forces to negotiate deals with Taliban militants and end more than a decade of violence.
“If the case goes on, definitely this will become a serious source of irritation for the military,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based security analyst who previously taught at Columbia University in New York. “If these things continue, you will see problems in civil and military relations in the coming months.”
Musharraf, 70, was brought to court with a police escort, pictures from Geo TV showed, after security agencies and his lawyers warned of threats to his life. The former general had deposed Sharif in a 1999 coup after a dispute over an occupation of Indian-controlled territory in Kashmir.
Tariq Hasan, a public prosecutor, said Musharraf was charged under Article 6 of the constitution. He faces either death or life in prison and the case is likely to end within three months, he said.
Ahmed Raza Khan Kasuri, a defense lawyer, said Musharraf has pleaded not guilty.
“The case is biased,” Kasuri said, adding that the former army chief has also sought permission to visit his ailing mother in Dubai.
Musharraf has called his treason trial a “political vendetta” and said the military “wouldn’t like anything happening to their ex-army chief,” the New York Times reported on Dec. 29. The army hasn’t commented on the trial.
The former general left office in 2008 after parliament threatened to impeach him. He returned from a self-imposed exile in March 2013 and faces several legal cases, including his involvement in the failure to provide adequate security for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto before her 2007 assassination and the murder of a separatist leader.
Musharraf angered militants when he became a U.S. ally after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and survived at least four assassination attempts by Islamic extremists while in power from 1999 to 2008. More than 40,000 Pakistanis have since been killed in suicide and bomb attacks by the Pakistani Taliban and a monthlong cease-fire announced by militants expires today.
Sharif gained power for a third time in elections last May. Soon after taking charge in June, he said Musharraf would have to answer for his 2007 action.
Sharif’s aides met Taliban militants last week for their first-ever direct negotiations. The prime minister is seeking to end the insurgency and focus more on spurring the $225 billion economy, which has seen five years of stagnant growth.