The treason trial of Pakistan’s former military strongman, Pervez Musharraf, got off to a cloak-and-dagger start Tuesday when police discovered explosives and other weapons on the route from his Islamabad home to the court hearing the case.
Musharraf had been scheduled to make ignominious history as the first former military dictator of Pakistan, out of four that have ruled the country since its independence in 1947, to be held accountable by a civilian court.
Instead, Musharraf stayed put at his luxury farmhouse residence in the suburbs of Islamabad, where he has been held since April, after security officials found a bag containing 11 pounds of explosives, 16 feet of detonation wire, two handguns and 16 rounds of ammunition on the road linking his home to an adjacent highway.
Mysteriously, the explosives had not been rigged to explode, raising suspicions about the identity and motives of the person or persons who had planted the explosives and weapons there. After being examined by the bomb squad and declared harmless, the bag was casually picked up by a uniformed police officer and taken away.
The three-judge special court appointed to hear the treason charges against Musharraf subsequently granted him a one-time immunity from appearing in person and ordered his lawyers to ensure he be present in court on Jan. 1 to hear the reading of the charges against him.
Musharraf is being tried for imposing a state of emergency in November 2007. During that time he suspended the constitution so that he could sack rebellious judges who sought to block a reconciliation law issued by Musharraf to facilitate a transition to democracy after eight years of military rule.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the lead counsel for Musharraf, Sharifuddin Pirzada, raised objections about the neutrality of the three Supreme Court judges hearing the case, pointing out that they had been among the dozens of judges who had refused to take a fresh oath of office under a temporary constitution put in place by Musharraf in November 2007.
Ahmed Raza Kasuri, another lawyer for the former military ruler, said the defense team would, at the court’s next hearing, ask the court to extend its examination of the treason charges back to October 1999, when Musharraf staged a coup against the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif was elected back into power in a May general election, but he decided against prosecuting Musharraf for the October 1999 coup, largely because it has the potential to destabilize Pakistan’s fledgling democracy by identifying as collaborators many army generals and politicians, as well as judges, who subsequently rebelled in 2007.