Pakistan's premier: Pervez Musharraf to be tried for treason

Pakistan's premier: Pervez Musharraf to be tried for treason
A woman walks past an election banner for Pakistan's former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, in a neighborhood of Islamabad. (B.K. Bangash / Associated Press)

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's prime minister said Monday that the government would put the military ruler who ousted him in a coup more than a decade ago on trial for treason, setting up a possible clash with the country's powerful army.

But the government stopped short of declaring officially that it was filing charges against Pervez Musharraf, saying it would first consult with other political parties.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke in parliament as the Supreme Court held a hearing on a possible treason case against Musharraf. The former military ruler can be tried for treason only if the federal government presses charges against him.

Sharif said the government agreed with the Supreme Court's decision that Musharraf committed treason under Article 6 of the constitution when he declared a state of emergency in 2007 and suspended the constitution.

“The prime minister is under oath to protect, preserve and defend the constitution, and it is implicit in his oath that his government ensures that persons guilty of acts under Article 6 are brought to justice,” Sharif said.

The prime minister was reading from a statement that was submitted to the Supreme Court by Atty. Gen. Munir Malik on Monday. The statement did not mention Musharraf's ouster of Sharif in a coup in 1999 when Musharraf was serving as army chief, perhaps because the move was retroactively approved by the Supreme Court and parliament at the time.

Musharraf would be the first military ruler tried for treason in a country that has experienced three military coups in its 66-year history.

Senior lawmakers from the two main opposition parties, the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said they supported the government's plan to try Musharraf for treason.

“If we are going to strengthen democracy in this country and establish democratic norms, the only way is to follow the constitution and abide by the law,” said Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmaker Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Musharraf, who is under house arrest in connection with a separate case, could face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted of treason. But some analysts doubt the army, which is considered the country's most powerful institution, will allow that to happen. Musharraf has maintained his innocence.

Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March after years of self-imposed exile, with the hope of running in the national election held in May. But he was disqualified because of his actions while in power and has spent most of his time battling legal cases. The government has barred him from leaving the country while the cases are pending.

The caretaker government that ruled the country in the run-up to the election declined to press treason charges against Musharraf, telling the Supreme Court that the issue was outside its mandate.

Supreme Court judges quizzed the attorney general Monday about the specifics of the government plan to bring charges against Musharraf. Malik requested 30 days to prepare the plan. The judges ordered him to appear before the court again Thursday to provide an update.