Ex-Dictator Is First Pakistan Army General to Get Death Penalty
(Bloomberg) — A Pakistani special court sentenced former military dictator and president Pervez Musharraf to death in absentia, ending a six-year long high treason case against him and delivering a historic verdict against the country’s powerful army.
The verdict — a two-to-one majority — drew a strong reaction from the military. Musharraf, who served for over 40 years and fought wars in the defense of the country “can surely never be a traitor,” according to a statement released Tuesday evening by military spokesman General Asif Ghafoor.
It’s “been received with lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of Pakistan armed forces,” Ghafoor said, noting the military expects justice will be dispensed in line with the constitution. “The due legal process seems to have been ignored.”
Musharraf, who has been in Dubai since 2016 seeking medical treatment and never attended the legal proceedings, has the right to appeal in the Supreme Court. “We’ll definitely challenge it in the Supreme Court,” Musharraf’s lawyer Raza Bashir said on the television channel Samaa, expressing concern the verdict was given in hurry and his client didn’t get fair trial.
It is the first time in Pakistan’s 72-year history that a military ruler has been tried with high treason — in this case for imposing emergency rule and suspending the constitution in 2007. Musharraf, as the army chief, toppled the civilian government of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif in 1999 and later became the country’s military president. The south Asian nation has a history of being ruled by army dictators, who have imposed four martial laws since independence from the U.K. in 1947.
The verdict will “have a major positive impact on democracy and the rule of law as after decades, a person has been tried and sentenced,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, said in Islamabad. “It will have a deterrent value.”
Musharraf was a key ally of the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York until he was forced to step down in 2008 to avoid impeachment by Parliament. Sharif began treason proceedings against Musharraf soon after he came back to power in 2013.
Pakistan’s biggest political parties, whose government’s have been toppled at least once in past by military dictators, welcomed the verdict.
“The verdict is historic and it will be welcomed by all democratic forces,” said Ahsan Iqbal, a senior leader of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party. “Democracy is the best revenge,” tweeted Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is the co-chief of Pakistan Peoples Party, echoing his mother’s comments before she was slain in a terrorist attack in 2007.
Bilawal’s grandfather, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was removed as the prime minister by ex-General Zia-ul-Haq in 1977. The army is known to control the nation’s foreign and security policies and political leaders have often blamed it for interfering in politics — including helping current Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party win the 2018 national elections. Both the army and Khan have denied the claims.
The court delayed the judgment in November after premier Khan’s administration and the former military chief requested more time for arguments. An anti-terrorism court has already declared him absconder and ordered the confiscation of his assets in the murder case of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
(Updates with army response in third paragraph.)
–With assistance from Faseeh Mangi.
To contact the reporter on this story: Kamran Haider in Islamabad at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at email@example.com, Khalid Qayum
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