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Last updated: March 31, 2014 3:19 pm
Pakistan’s former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf was indicted for high treason and denied permission to leave the country on Monday as the battle over his fate threatened to increase tension between the army and civilian government.
The indictment alleges that a 2007 state of emergency, imposed by Mr Musharraf, not only violated civil liberties but also saw the illegal detention of judges, civil society activists and others who opposed his rule.
He is the first former army chief to face treason charges in Pakistan’s 67-year history and if convicted he could face life imprisonment or even the death sentence.
Analysts however said Mr Musharraf, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, is unlikely to be sentenced. “The army remains a powerful force in Pakistan. I doubt a former army chief can be sent to prison,” said one western diplomat reacting to the charges.
After the indictment was read out in an Islamabad special court Mr Musharraf’s lawyer requested he be allowed to travel to the United Arab Emirates to visit his sick mother.
But the court, consisting of three senior judges, later denied Mr Musharraf’s request to travel on the grounds that permission can only be granted by prime minister Nawaz Sharif government.
The former president’s name was added to a list of Pakistani nationals who are not allowed to leave the country.
Mr Musharraf has claimed that his prosecution is politically motivated and blamed Mr Sharif. Mr Musharraf took power in a 1999 military coup that ousted Mr Sharif and saw him exiled to Saudi Arabia. In recent months, one widely asked question has been the extent to which the Pakistan army led by General Raheel Sharif has worked behind the scenes to protect Mr Musharraf from prosecution.
Mr Sharif has a tense relationship with the military but needs its support to negotiate deals with Taliban militants to end more than a decade of violence that has left thousands dead and severely damaged the economy.
Analysts warned that prolonging a resolution to Mr Musharraf’s case could damage Mr Sharif’s relations with the army. “Ending the dispute over president Musharraf is the only way for the government to avoid further tension with the army,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political and security commentator. “As long as the case lingers, relations between the [Sharif] government and the army will not improve”.
The former army chief has remained in a military hospital in Rawalpindi, just outside the capital Islamabad, for more than three months after he complained of chest pains. Mr Musharraf’s hospitalisation has been used by his lawyers to justify his absence from previous scheduled court appearances.
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