McClatchy Foreign Staff
ISLAMABAD – Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani military ruler a key U.S. ally after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, will be tried for treason, Pakistan’s interior minister said Sunday. If convicted, Musharraf could face the death penalty.
Musharraf would be the first of Pakistan’s military dictators to stand trial for subverting the country’s democratic constitution, a charge that stems not from his October 1999 ouster of the elected government but from his imposition of a state of emergency in November 2007 to fire rebellious judges who outlawed his attempt to dismiss the country’s chief justice.
The interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, said the country’s current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was also prime minister when Musharraf seized power, had decided not to prosecute Musharraf for the 1999 coup because he had “forgiven” the general.
“This is not an act of revenge,” he said at a news conference in Islamabad, the capital.
The government decision to proceed with Musharraf’s prosecution was taken in compliance with a Supreme Court ruling in July that a federal investigation be launched against him. The attorney general, Munir Malik, on Monday will submit a report on the investigation into Musharraf and ask the court to form a special three-judge panel to hear the case.
Musharraf’s fate has formed a dramatic backdrop for Pakistan’s political discourse since his return to the country in March to run in May parliamentary elections.
Musharraf, who was the country’s top military officer when he overthrew Sharif, had been advised not to return. The country’s courts later ruled he could not seek office, and prosecutors announced investigations into his role in a number of controversial events that took place during his nine-year rule, including the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He was placed under house arrest in April, but was allowed to post bail just 10 days ago, though he was barred from leaving the country.
Democracy remains a relatively new, fragile institution in Pakistan, where the military is still seen as the ultimate adjudicator of power. This year’s ascension to power of Sharif is unique in the country’s history because it was the only time that one elected government took over from another.