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Court in Pakistan Gives Musharraf a Deadline to Appear

  • Ayaz Gul

FILE - A supporter holds a picture of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, during a protest with others at the Special Court where Musharraf will attend his trial in Islamabad, Feb. 18, 2014.
A special court established to prosecute treason charges against Pakistan’s former military ruler and president, Pervez Musharraf, has ordered police to arrest him if he fails to appear before the judges on March 31, for a formal reading of the indictment.

The high-profile legal proceedings against Pervez Musharraf began more than 10 weeks ago, but he has only appeared once in court, citing security and health reasons for his absence. Pakistani law requires him to be present in court to hear the charges against him.

Musharraf has been under treatment in a military hospital near Islamabad since January, although critics contend he has been engaging in delaying tactics to obstruct the court.

In a show of frustration, the three-member panel of judges ordered police Friday to arrest the former military leader if he fails to appear on March 31, and directed the government to ensure Musharraf’s personal safety when he travels to the court from the hospital.

The treason charges against Musharraf stem from 2007, when he declared a state of emergency in Pakistan, suspended the constitution and fired top judges to quash opposition.

A senior defense attorney, Ahmad Raza Kasuri, questioned the arrest warrant, telling reporters the special court was not authorized to carry out such action until it ruled on a petition challenging the formation of the judicial panel.

“It is not in accordance with the law of the land. Therefore, unless we cross that bridge and court comes to the conclusion that the complaint has been lawfully lodged, we cannot proceed. And in that complaint we have said in a categorical term that why General Musharraf alone [should be charged]. Why not those hundreds of people who rendered assistance who were the collaborator and abettor in the so-called crime,” he said.

Subversion of the Pakistani constitution is considered high treason under the law of the land, which says charges should be brought against individuals or institutions that support such subversive action.

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, when he was the leader of the nation's military, and subsequently became president. He stepped down under pressure in 2008, after his political allies were defeated in national elections that year. He could face life in prison or receive death penalty if found guilty of treason, though critics contend Pakistan's powerful military will allow its former chief to be tried and sentenced.