Former Pakistani military leader Pervez Musharraf was sentenced to death on Tuesday – an unprecedented decision in a country where members of the military are often considered immune from prosecution.
What are the charges against Musharraf?
The case centres around Musharraf’s decision to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule in 2007, according to his lawyer, Akhtar Shah.
The controversial move ultimately sparked protests against him, leading to his resignation in the face of impeachment proceedings.
A three-member bench of the special court, headed by Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth, delivered the verdict in the high treason case.
The court, in its short order, said that after analysing complaints, records, arguments and facts in the case for three months, it found Musharraf guilty of high treason in accordance with Article Six of the Pakistan constitution.
A 1973 law regarding the conviction of high treason stipulates either death or life imprisonment as punishment.
The trial was initiated by then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, an old rival of the ex-army chief who was ousted by him in a bloodless coup in 1999.
Despite his claims that the case was politically motivated, former military chief Musharraf was charged for high treason regardless.
What is the significance?
The Pakistani judiciary has been increasingly assertive in its battle with the military in order to establish the rule of law.
The court’s decision marks the first time a former leader of the armed forces has been convicted of treason and sentenced to death in Pakistan.
As the armed forces have ruled the country for almost half of its 72-year history, it maintains strong influence and senior officers are often considered immune from prosecution.
Depending on how events transpire, the case could set a precedent for civilian-military relations in the future.
Who is Pervez Musharraf?
Born in India’s capital Delhi in 1943, Musharraf moved with his family to the newly formed state of Pakistan after independence from the British Empire and partition.
He underwent education in the armed forces and Musharraf’s military career reached its peak when he was appointed as army chief by the then Prime Minister Sharif in 1998.
A year later though, he took power ousting Sharif in a bloodless coup.
He strengthened his powers and became a major US ally in the ‘War on Terror’ after the September 11 attacks in the United States.
Being a US ally made him a target in the eyes of terrorist groups. The whisky-drinking secular general escaped at least three Al Qaeda assassination attempts during his nine years in office.
His attempt to sack the chief justice was the beginning of the end for his rule, sparking nationwide protests and months of turmoil.
Musharaff justified his move by citing a surge in militant attacks and interference by the judiciary.
Although he declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution, he couldn’t suppress the waves of opposition rising against his rule.
In 2007, the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto under his rule exacerbated the public’s discontentment against him.
After a heavy loss in 2008 elections, Musharraf finally resigned and, in the face of impeachment proceedings by the new governing coalition, went into exile.
However, he returned to Pakistan in 2013 to contest the elections and was barred from taking part and from leaving the country.
Musharraf has been in self-imposed exile ever since a travel ban was lifted in 2016 that allowed him to seek medical treatment abroad.
The 76-year-old has since spent most of his time between Dubai and London.
What is the reaction?
The verdict drew swift condemnation from Pakistan’s military, saying the armed forces were in “pain and anguish” over the decision.
“An ex-Army Chief, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Committee and President of Pakistan, who has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defence of the country can surely never be a traitor,” the military said in a statement, adding the legal process “seems to have been ignored”.
Ahsan Iqbal, an aide to Sharif, hailed the ruling as a big day for democracy and hoped it would help end “the tradition of violating the constitution”.
Bhutto’s son Bilawal Bhutto expressed his satisfaction with the verdict.
“Democracy is the best revenge,” he tweeted.