Pakistan's death sentence for Musharraf is rare challenge to army's influence

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - In a country where the military is considered the most powerful institution and largely immune from prosecution, the conviction of former army chief Pervez Musharraf for treason is remarkable.

Pakistan's military has ruled the country directly for half of its life through coups, and has been accused of meddling in politics by promoting its own favourites for much of the rest.

While the generals deny political scheming and say they acknowledge civilian rule, opposition politicians and rights groups warn that behind the scenes the military has a growing grip on power.

In such a climate, for a former chief of the army staff to be sentenced to death for suspending the constitution is an unprecedented challenge.

That the military considered it provocative was evident in its response after the verdict. It left no doubt that the generals were angry and a clash with the judiciary is now likely.

“The decision given by the special court about Gen Pervez Musharraf has been received with a lot of pain and anguish by the rank and file of Pakistan armed forces,” the military's information wing said.

The armed forces accused the court of ignoring legal due process and denying Musharraf his right to defend himself.

Pakistan's forces “expect that justice will be dispensed in line with the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan", they warned.

With Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government considered to be closely aligned to the military, his ministers may also come out against the verdict.

The court's ruling is the second time in less than a month that judges have issued a rebuff to the military.

Late last month, the Supreme Court briefly blocked a three-year extension for the chief of army staff, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, before passing the decision to Parliament to rule on.

Musharraf has the right to an appeal against his conviction and if he loses that, there is still the possibility of a presidential pardon.

Farzana Shaikh, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London, said she was sceptical the sentence could ever be implemented. Musharraf is in in self-imposed exile.

“Obviously this decision is unprecedented and in that way clearly historical," Ms Shaikh said. "But I think it's also important to bear in mind that it's very likely to remain a symbolic decision.”

Pakistani lawyers celebrate after President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation in front of the presidency in Islamabad on August 18, 2008. AFP

Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf's lawyer Akhtar Shah (C) speaks to the members of the media after a verdict outside a special court in Islamabad. AFP

A shopkeeper observes screens displaying the news after Pakistani court sentenced former military ruler Pervez Musharraf to death on charges of high treason and subverting the constitution, at a shop in Karachi, Pakistan. Reuters

Pakistan's former president Pervez Musharraf arrives at an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad, Pakistan. AP

Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharraf addresses his supporters upon his arrival at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, 2013. Reuters

Former US president George W. Bush and former Pakastan president Pervez Musharraf speak to reporters on 13 February 2002 at the White House. Reuters

Former US President George W. Bush, former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf and former Pakistan prime minister Shaukat Aziz, left, arrive to greet guests prior to a state dinner at the Presidential Palace in Islamabad, 4 March 2006. Reuters

Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf hosts a special iftar to mark Pakistan Independence Day at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dubai, August 2012. Antonie Robertson / The National

Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf during an interview in Rawalpindi. AFP

A bigger question is whether it will deter military power plays in the future, she said.

It could be significant that the ruling had found him guilty of suspending the constitution in 2007, not of originally overthrowing the civilian government in 1999.

“That still leaves people thinking that if things don't go the military's way, it would still be free to mount a coup,” Ms Shaikh said.

No one has heard yet from the man at the centre of the drama, Musharraf. But 11 years after he left power, his legacy continues to divide the country.

Updated: December 18, 2019 01:46 AM

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