Pakistan's new prime minister has announced that his government intends to try former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on treason charges. The move is likely to anger Pakistan's powerful army.
The intended charges, for which the maximum penalty is death, relate to when Musharraf suspended Pakistan's constitution in 2007 and imposed emergency rule. Speaking in parliament on Monday, his elected successor Prime Minister Nawas Sharif read from a statement simultaneously presented to the Supreme Court.
Sharif said the government "firmly subscribes to the view that the holding in abeyance of the constitution on 3rd November 2007, constituted an act of high treason."
"Musharraf will have to answer for his guilt before the court. We will follow the process of law and all political forces will be taken into confidence," he said.
Sharif spoke as the Supreme Court held a hearing on several petitions requesting a formal treason case against Musharraf. However, he can only be tried for treason if the federal government presses charges.
On Monday, Attorney General Munir Malik informed the court that the government would pursue the case under Article 6, which states that anyone abrogating the constitution would be tried for high treason, punishable by death.
Musharraf ousted Sharif in a coup in 1999, cutting short his second term in office. Sharif was then forced into exile in Saudi Arabia.
Musharraf stepped down in 2008 after his supporters were defeated in elections. He spent almost four years in self-imposed exile in London, returning to Pakistan earlier this year hoping to contest elections in May, but was put under house arrest.
In last month's election, Sharif was returned to power for an unprecedented third time, marking the first civilian transition of power in the country's 66-year history.
"Nothwithstanding the fact that the prime minister has borned the brunt of Musharraf's brazen coup, he wishes to assure both this august court and the people of Pakistan that he will act according to the highest standards of justice and follow the due process of law," Sharif said on Monday.
Opposition parties back move
Senior lawmakers from the two main oppositin parties, the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Teehreek-e-Insaf, said they supported the government's move.
Musharraf's lawer, Ahmad Raza Qasuri, labeled Malik's official submission to the court "constitutional poetry" and said the government charges were a distraction from the real issues affecting Pakistan, such as unemployment and electricity shortages.
Supreme Court judges ordered Malik to reappear before the court on Thursday to provide an update on the government's specific plans.
Musharaff is also facing accusations that he overstepped his powers when he fired Pakistan's chief justice and detained senior judges after he imposed emergency rule, and in another case, also from 2007, that he failed to provide adequate security to prevent the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
He will be the first military chief to face treason charges, and has maintained his innocence. Some doubt Pakistan's army, considered by some its most powerful institution, would allow Musharraf to face the death penalty or life in prison if he is convicted.
jr/ipj (AP, dpa, Reuters)