Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on Sunday denounced treason charges against him as a “vendetta”, and claimed he had the backing of the country’s powerful army in the case. The 70-year-old said the “whole army” was upset with the treason allegations, in his first comments to international media since he was put under house arrest in April.
The treason claims are the latest and potentially most serious in a flurry ofcriminal cases relating to Musharraf’s nine-year rule that he has faced since returning to country in March.
The case could put the government on course for a clash with the army, threatening further instability at a time when the nuclear-armed country is struggling with a home-grown Taliban insurgency, a chronic energy crisis and a stagnant economy. The military has not made any direct public comment on the case. But it is thought to be reluctant to have its former chief suffer the indignity of trial by a civilian court.
“I would say the whole army is upset. I have led the army from the front,” Musharraf told reporters at his farmhouse on the edge of Islamabad.
“I have no doubt with the feedback that I received that the whole army is… totally with me on this issue.”
The treason charges relate to Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule in November 2007, and if found guilty he could face the death penalty or life imprisonment.
An initial hearing in the case, being heard by a special tribunal, was halted on December 24 after explosives were found along the route Musharraf was to take to court.
The case is due to resume on Wednesday, but Musharraf said he had not yet decided whether he would attend.
“The way this tribunal was formed, which involved the prime minister and the ex-chief justice, this itself smacks a little bit of a vendetta,” he said.
He said he had no objection to defending himself before a “fair tribunal or court” but admitted he was not optimistic about the special panel convened to hear his case.
His lawyers have dismissed the charges as an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999, to settle old scores through the courts.
Analyst Talat Masood, himself a retired general, voiced scepticism about Musharraf’s claims of widespread support among the military.
He said that while some elements might be sympathetic, to say that the whole army was behind Musharraf was an “inflated assessment”.
“The army has already given its nod as far as the trial is concerned,” Masood told AFP.
“Some who have not reconciled with this reality will have to accept it later. Army has already accepted the reality.”
Musharraf’s tribulations represent a dramatic change in fortunes for the man who led Pakistan into its alliance with Washington’s “war on terror” and who was a staunch ally of then-US president George W. Bush. To add to the former commando’s humiliation, in April he was placed under house arrest – an unprecedented move against a former army chief in Pakistan.
He has now been granted bail in all of the cases against him and is technically a free man, but Taliban threats to kill him mean he lives under heavy guard.
Nothing has come so far of persistent rumours that a deal would be struck to let him leave Pakistan before facing the courts to avoid a clash between the army and government.
Masood the analyst said he felt the case was a watershed in civilian-military relations in Pakistan, with the government trying to prove that not even senior officers are above the law.
As the treason case has drawn closer, Musharraf’s team have stepped up their media campaign to try to enlist international support. At a press conference in London last week, his British lawyers urged the United Nations to intervene in what they called a “stage-managed show trial” and asked London and Washington to “repay their debt” for Musharraf’s support in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.