ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan’s new government intends to put former military dictator Pervez Musharraf on trial on charges of high treason, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Monday, in a move likely to anger the country’s powerful armed forces.
The charges being considered against Musharraf relate to his declaration of a state of emergency in 2007 and the suspension of constitutional rights that followed.
In Pakistan, the maximum penalty for treason is death.
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,” Sharif said in parliament, reading from a statement simultaneously presented to the Supreme Court.
“Musharraf will have to answer for his guilt before the court,” he said.
Musharraf ousted Sharif in a coup fourteen years ago, cutting short the prime minister’s second term in office. Sharif was then hounded into exile in Saudi Arabia by the dictator.
Sharif’s decision to move against Musharraf suggests he is determined to take a more assertive stance than the last government in relation to the military, which has ruled Pakistan for much of the nation’s 66-year history.
“Notwithstanding the fact that the Prime Minister has borne 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.
Musharraf, a key ally of George W. Bush in the early years of Washington’s “war on terror”, himself spent almost four years in self-imposed exile. He returned to Pakistan hoping to contest May 11 elections but was put under house arrest.
His detention appeared to break an unwritten rule that the top ranks of the military are untouchable, even after they have retired. The current army chief has suggested the military is unhappy with how the authorities have treated Musharraf.
Musharraf’s spokesman called Sharif’s announcement “reckless and ill conceived,” saying it was designed to distract attention from more pressing national issues.
“It can result in unnecessary tension amongst the various pillars of state and possibly destabilize the country,” the spokesman, Raza Bokhari, told reporters.
Musharraf also faces accusations that he overstepped his powers in a showdown with the judiciary in 2007, when he sacked the chief justice and placed judges under house arrest.
Another legal challenge revolves around allegations that he failed to provide adequate security to prevent the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, also in 2007.
The elections this year brought Sharif back to office for an unprecedented third time and saw the first transition between two civilian governments in Pakistan’s turbulent history.
Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez