Pervez Musharraf: Defiant stand
Islamabad, March 31: Pervez Musharraf was today formally indicted on five counts of treason by a special court in Islamabad, marking a turning point for Pakistan where the military has long dominated the civilian leadership and no military ruler has ever been tried for abuse of power.
The former President faces the death penalty if convicted of the charges of subverting Pakistan’s Constitution in 2007, when he imposed emergency rule and fired high-ranking judicial officials in an attempt to maintain his grip on power.
As the formal charges were read out in the special three-judge court headed by Justice Faisal Arab, the 70-year-old Musharraf stood in a defiant stance and pleaded not guilty.
“I fought two wars for the country,” he said. “I gave 44 years of my life to Pakistan’s Army. The country was nearing default in 1999 when I assumed power, but I restored the country’s honour. I regret that despite all this I am being called a traitor.”
Under treatment at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in neighbouring Rawalpindi since January, Musharraf stood ramrod-straight and replied “Not guilty” to each of the five charges. “I would like to ask where is the justice for me in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.… I have only given to this country and not taken anything,” he said. “I prefer death to surrender.”
The case marks the first time a former military officer of Musharraf’s rank has appeared in court before a judge. Showing up only for the second time since hearings began in December, he delivered a nearly 30-minute defence of his time in office.
He spoke of the rapid strides Pakistan had made in several fields under his tenure, questioning whether it was “treason” to serve the country as army chief for nine years and safeguard its independence.
To his mind, traitors were those who plundered national wealth and the treasury. “I am no traitor,” Musharraf said. “Is this the way to reward someone for being loyal to the country and for loving the country?”
All along, his lawyers stressed that Musharraf did not take the decision to impose emergency unilaterally and had acted on the advice of then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. “Now the former President will have to prove that he took the step on the advice of his Prime Minister and the cabinet,” public prosecutor Akram Sheikh said after the hearing.
Musharraf’s lawyer Farough Naseem asked the court to allow his client to visit his mother in Dubai. “His mother is dying, for God’s sake. She is 94 and very ill….
“He will come back. He wants to face the trial. He wants his name to be cleared.”
In 2008, Musharraf had resigned under threat of impeachment and left the country. He returned to Pakistan in March 2013 to revive his political career, but instead found himself ensnared in a phalanx of court cases stemming from his time in power. The treason charge is the most serious one Musharraf faces.
On January 2, Musharraf was on his way to court but went instead to hospital after complaining of heart trouble. Since then, the panel hearing the case has expressed unhappiness with his continuing absence.
It issued an arrest warrant for Musharraf that would have gone into effect had he not attended today’s hearing.
Late last night, Musharraf’s lawyers said he had been admitted to intensive care at the military hospital, suggesting that he might again fail to appear. But this morning, a contingent of police officers arrived at the hospital. Musharraf, for whom arrest would have been a deeply humiliating possibility, agreed to go to Islamabad.
Elaborate security arrangements were made for the proceedings. At least 2,100 police officers and paramilitary troops stood guard on the route from the Rawalpindi hospital to the court in Islamabad.