Security scare delays treason trial for Pakistan’s Musharraf
The start of former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s trial for treason was delayed over security fears on Tuesday after explosives were found near the road he was to take to court.
The 70-year-old had been expected to appear in person before a specially-convened court in the capital Islamabad, after legal efforts to have the tribunal ruled invalid failed.
The allegations relate to his imposition of emergency rule in November 2007 and Musharraf and his legal team have dismissed the case as politically-motivated.
As the court was preparing for Tuesday’s preliminary hearing in the case, police said they found five kilograms of explosive material along with a detonator and two pistols close to the route Musharraf was due to take from his house to the court.
Muhammad Asjad, the police chief for Chak Shahzad, where Musharraf lives, said the material had not been assembled into a bomb.
After the discovery, Musharraf lawyer Anwar Mansoor Khan told the court that the former general would not be able to attend because of serious security threats to his life.
Justice Faisal Arab, heading the three member bench, said he understood the “gravity” of Musharraf’s situation and asked his lawyers to file an application to exempt him from appearing in person.
The court was expected to decide later on Tuesday whether to adjourn the hearing to a later date or to proceed in Musharraf’s absence.
The team of 10 lawyers representing Musharraf has also filed petitions challenging the authority of the special court and objecting to the appointment of the prosecutor.
Barrage of cases
Since returning from self-imposed exile in March to run in the May general election, Musharraf has faced a range of serious criminal cases dating back to his 1999-2008 rule.
These include murder charges over the assassination in late 2007 of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, as well as the death of a rebel leader, a deadly military raid on a radical mosque and the detention of judges.
Security around the court was tight for the man who led Pakistan into its uneasy alliance with the US in the “war on terror” and now lives under heavy armed guard because of Taliban threats to his life.
It is the first time in Pakistan’s history that a former military ruler has been put on trial for treason.
The case puts the government, which brought the charges, on a collision course with the all-powerful army, which faces the embarrassment of having its former chief tried by civilians.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who won a third term in May’s general election, was the man Musharraf ousted in his 1999 coup and the former general’s lawyers say he is using the case to exact revenge.
The criminal cases saw Musharraf put under house arrest in April but he has been granted bail in all of them and is technically a free man, though threats to his life mean he lives under heavy guard.
The cases have ground through Pakistan’s notoriously slow legal system, moving from adjournment to adjournment with little clear progress being made apart from the granting of bail.
There have been persistent rumours that a deal would be struck to let him leave Pakistan before facing the courts to avoid a clash between the army and government.
But no deal has been forthcoming and last week, speaking publicly for the first time since his house arrest began, Musharraf vowed to stay and fight to clear his name.
On Monday the Sindh High Court said it was unable to grant an application by Musharraf to have a travel ban lifted so he could visit his sick mother in Dubai, saying only the government could make the order.