This week Pakistan’s new government threw its weight behind the effort to prosecute former military dictator Pervez Musharraf for treason. In 1999, Musharraf ousted then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (who recently returned for a third term in office), and a military court sentenced him to life in prison on an assortment of charges including terrorism and corruption. Are the charges against Musharraf, which carry a possible penalty of death, score-settling or a signal of intent by Sharif that the new government will stand up to the military?
“Musharraf will have to answer for his guilt before the court,” Nawaz Sharif said earlier this week. “Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Chaudry Nisar, told parliament on Thursday that a four-member committee had been appointed to investigate treason charges against former president Pervez Musharraf,” reports Foreign Policy.
Sharif has also signalled his intent to try to repair Pakistan’s relationship with India, something the army is likely to resist; prosecuting a general, retired or not, is another thing entirely. The country has a chaotic web of shifting alliances between the pillars of power—the civilian politicians, the Supreme Court, and the military—and the army has been known to take power with the support of one of the other pillars. The Supreme Court authorized Musharraf’s military dictatorship, for example. Former military dictators like Musharraf who were technically guilty of violating the constitution used to be considered untouchable, yet now the civilian politicians and the Court are allied in the effort to prosecute Musharraf for past crimes.
Will they succeed? To find Musharraf guilty of treason could set a precedent that would upset the military. It might act to prevent such a conclusion, or it could strike a deal that allows Musharraf to get off the hook, perhaps by going back into exile. Or the civilians and the Court could push and push some more—and then who knows what will happen.
[Pervez Musharraf photo courtesy of Shutterstock]