ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Monday that his newly installed government intends to press treason charges against former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, setting up a potential clash with Pakistan’s powerful military.
In a speech to Parliament that was critical of the military, Sharif said Musharraf had to answer for his acts during his years in power, comments that drew loud applause from Sharif’s supporters.
But the government has stopped short of pressing formal charges because Sharif wants to first consult with the nation’s other political parties.
The treason case against Musharraf is pending in the Supreme Court, and charges have also been pressed in four other cases relating to Musharraf’s rule from 1999 to 2008. He has remained under house arrest at his villa outside Islamabad since April, shortly after his return from years of exile abroad.
Musharraf’s treatment has already stirred disquiet in parts of the military, which is uncomfortable at the sight of a former army chief being dragged through the courts, a shocking spectacle in a country where the military has ruled for more than half of its 66-year history.
Under the army’s supreme commander, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani military has largely stayed out of the political process of late.
But a treason charge, based on accusations that Musharraf subverted the Constitution by imposing emergency rule in 2007, would considerably raise the ante. Musharraf supporters have hinted that should the charge go ahead, carrying with it a possible death sentence, the army could intervene.
Ahmad Raza Kasuri, a Musharraf aide, said it would open a “Pandora’s box,” while Musharraf’s spokesman said “the people of Pakistan will not tolerate this circus.”
“It takes the focus away from the serious challenges faced by the nation and could result in unnecessary tension amongst the various pillars of state, and possibly destabilize the country,” said Reza Bokhari, the spokesman.
Sharif and Musharraf have a bitter history dating to 1999, when the army ousted Sharif in a coup, installing Musharraf as leader. Sharif was forced into exile in Saudi Arabia.
Sharif returned to Pakistan in 2007, and his party won a comfortable victory in the May 11 election. Musharraf, meanwhile, returned from four years in exile in March to run in the election, only to find himself disqualified and bogged down with legal troubles.
But the treason charges are also being stirred by the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, also an old rival of Musharraf. Some analysts said the judges forced Sharif’s hand.
In the Supreme Court on Monday, judges questioned the attorney general about whether the government intended to bring charges. The government asked for 30 days’ leave, but the court instructed it to return to court and provide further details Thursday.
Critics of the charges argue that Musharraf was not alone in his actions and that he enjoyed the support of senior officers and civilian officials when he was in power.