Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf went on trial for treason Wednesday but defense lawyers told the court security threats prevented him from attending the proceedings.
Tight security arrangements were in place for Pervez Musharraf’s scheduled appearance before a three-member special court hearing the high treason case.
But shortly before the legal proceedings were to open Pakistani police reported defusing a bomb along the road Musharraf’s convoy was to take to the court, preventing him from leaving his residence on Islamabad’s outskirts. Police have found several improvised explosive devices in and around the same area in less than two weeks, forcing judges to put off last week’s inaugural session of the treason trail.
However, defense lawyer Ahmed Raza Kasuri said that the court accepted their arguments about security threats facing Musharraf and initiated the legal proceedings.
“I said [to the court that] if there is a blast in there, this hall, this is all open. You cannot arrange foolproof security and plug in all the gaps. If something goes wrong my lords will also be a target of that terrorist attack," said Kasuri. "So, there the court realized that what I am talking I am talking sense and they were not adamant that no proceeding can take place without him. Now the proceeding is taking place.”
Islamist extremists led by the Pakistani Taliban have repeatedly threatened to kill Musharraf for his part in Pakistan’s alliance with the United States' fight against terrorism. The former military leader also survived two assassination attempts while in power.
Musharraf is unlikely to be indicted in absentia, but a member of the prosecution team, Naseeruddin Khan Nayar, sounded unhappy over the former general’s defiance of the court order.
“The court has already issued an order requiring Mr. Pervez Musharraf to appear in person to answer the charges. Now it is for the court to procure his attendance in order to see the compliance of its own order,” he said.
The 70-year-old former military strongman ruled Pakistan for about a decade after taking power in a 1999 coup. However, the treason charges stem from Musharraf’s move to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule in 2007 to cling to power in the face of growing nationwide opposition. He faces the death penalty if found guilty.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, defense lawyers again dismissed the treason charges as politically motivated. They said they are skeptical about getting a fair trial, citing Musharraf’s disputes with the judiciary while he was in power and under a government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom the former army general ousted in the coup.
Musharraf returned to Pakistan in May after spending nearly five years in self-imposed exile. He wanted to take part in parliamentary elections but was barred from doing so. In addition to the treason charge, he also faces several other criminal cases, including murder. He was recently released from months of house arrest. In recent interviews, Musharraf has claimed the military is upset by his treatment and is still backing him.
The treason trial is unprecedented in Pakistan, where the military remains the country’s most powerful institution. However, analysts say that a sustained period of democratic rule since Musharraf stepped down in 2008, and an increasingly independent judiciary, has put the military on the defensive.
Some fear that the treason charges against its former chief could upset the military and reignite its confrontation with civilian authorities.