It is Pakistan’s biggest trial in years: The country’s former strongman, a veteran of the powerful military, faces charges of high treason in a case that could result in the death penalty. But so far, authorities can’t get former President Pervez Musharraf into the courtroom.
Musharraf was on the way to the latest session Thursday when his heavily secured convoy suddenly turned to speed to a military hospital after he suffered a heart problem on route, according to his lawyers and police.
Musharraf did not attend the two previous sessions of his trial last months for security reasons after explosives were found on the route he would take to the courtroom.
His lawyers said Thursday that the 70-year-old general was not well and was in intensive care. But the latest detour raised skepticism among some Pakistanis, believing that he was avoiding the embarrassment of appearing in a civilian courtroom — a reflection of the public perception that the military, a powerful force in Pakistan’s politics, is above the law.
The trial is an unprecedented prosecution of a top military figure — and a stark fall from grace for Musharraf, the former army chief who came to power in a 1999 coup and ruled Pakistan for nearly a decade. In self-imposed exile since he was forced from power in 2008, he returned in March, intending to run in parliamentary elections. Instead, he has been hit by a barrage of legal cases relating to his time in office, resulting in him being barred from entering elections.
The high treason case is the most serious and could result in the death penalty if he’s convicted. The charges are connected to his decision in 2007 to declare a state of emergency and detain senior judges including the chief justice. Critics said he was worried the judges would challenge his recent re-election as president but Musharraf portrayed it as a necessary step to fight the growing Taliban insurgency.
Thursday’s session of his trial was the third since it began Dec. 24, and Musharraf — who is residing at his farmhouse in the Islamabad suburbs — has not shown up for any. On Wednesday, he did not appear because of the bomb discovery, and one of his lawyers told the judges that if anything happened to Musharraf, the court would be held responsible.
But the judge ordered Musharraf to appear on Thursday, threatening to issue an arrest warrant against him if he failed to — setting up a potential showdown with the man who was once the most powerful person in the country.