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Is it checkmate for Musharraf?

Pakistan ex-leader's desperate battle with treason charge

Is it checkmate for Musharraf?

Pervez Musharraf. File picture: stocklight/

Zahid Hussain, Karachi

January 2, 2014

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With his assertion this week that Pakistan’s powerful armed forces are behind him, the beleaguered Pervez Musharraf has upped the ante in an intense legal battle to get himself cleared of a charge of high treason.

Musharraf, 70, the retired military dictator who ruled for nine years, is facing the charge because he declared emergency rule on November 3, 2007. His opponents claim that by doing this, he effectively abrogated the constitution. 

His high profile trial is the first for treason against any Pakistani general since the country's independence 66 years ago. He maintains that it reeks of vendetta. 

Senior analysts dismiss that as an exaggeration. But explosives found outside his residence twice within a week are an indication of the passions, complexities and threats swirling around the case.

Musharraf and his team have made multiple attempts to stall the trial. They have argued that he should be tried under the Army Act since he was an army leader when he declared emergency rule. A second petition challenged the choice of judges for the special court, while the third challenged the appointment of the prosecutor. 

With all of them struck down by the Islamabad High Court, his lawyers abroad have been calling for intervention from the international community, including the UN.

His latest claim that the military is behind him - and the veiled threat which that implies -  has a familiar ring to it. The memory is still fresh in people’s minds that he made similar claims about the massive popular support he enjoyed at the launch of his own political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League. This miscalculation encouraged him to end his self-imposed exile and return to Pakistan before the general elections of May 2013. The outcome of that now-or-never move is plain for all to see.

All this campaigning and claiming suggest an increasing desperation. It seems he has started knocking on any door in a bid to get himself out of trouble, as if the consequences of his present plight have only just dawned on him: he could be looking at a death sentence or life imprisonment.

Most analysts believe that this worst case scenario will not come to pass. Musharraf will be flown out of Pakistan, they say, through a presidential pardon after his likely conviction.

But while it lasts, and there are sure to be several more twists and turns, this is one courtroom drama that is keeping an entire nation spellbound. 

Zahid Hussain is a journalist based in Karachi.
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