ISLAMABAD: Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on Sunday denounced treason charges against him as a “vendetta”, and said he had the backing of the army in the case.
The 70-year-old said the “whole army” was upset with the treason allegations.
The military has not made any direct public comment on the case. But it is thought to be reluctant to have its former chief suffer the indignity of trial by a civilian court.
“I would say the whole army is upset. I have led the army from the front,” Mr Musharraf told reporters at his farmhouse on the edge of Islamabad.
“I have no doubt with the feedback that I received that the whole army is... totally with me on this issue.”
The treason charges relate to Gen Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule in November 2007, and if found guilty he could face the death penalty or life imprisonment.
An initial hearing in the case, being heard by a special court, was halted on Dec 24 after explosives were found along the route Mr Musharraf was to take to the court.
The case is due to resume on Wednesday, but Mr Musharraf said he had not yet decided whether he would attend. “The way this tribunal was formed, which involved the prime minister and the ex-chief justice, this itself smacks a little bit of a vendetta,” he said.
The former president said he had no objection to defending himself before a “fair tribunal or court” but admitted he was not optimistic about the special panel convened to hear his case.
His lawyers have dismissed the charges as an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Gen Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999, to settle old scores through the courts.
INFLATED ASSESSMENT: Defence analyst Talat Masood, himself a retired general, voiced scepticism about Mr Musharraf’s claims of widespread support among the military.
He said that while some elements might be sympathetic, to say that the whole army was behind Mr Musharraf was an “inflated assessment”.
“The army has already given its nod as far as the trial is concerned,” Mr Masood told AFP.
“Some who have not reconciled with this reality will have to accept it later. Army has already accepted the reality.”
Mr Musharraf returned to Pakistan to run in May’s general election but it proved to be a disastrous homecoming. He was barred from running for office and hit with a series of serious criminal allegations dating back to his time in power, which ended in 2008.
These include murder charge over the assassination in 2007 of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, as well as charges over the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti, a deadly military action against militants in Red Mosque and the detention of judges.
He has now been granted bail in all of the cases against him and is technically a free man, but Taliban threats to kill him mean he lives under heavy guard.
Nothing has come so far of persistent rumours that a deal would be struck to let him leave Pakistan before facing the courts to avoid a clash between the army and government.
Mr Masood said he felt the case is a watershed in civilian-military relations, with the government trying to prove that not even senior officers are above the law.
As the treason case has drawn closer, Mr Musharraf’s team has stepped up their media campaign to try to enlist international support.
At a press conference in London last week, his British lawyers urged the United Nations to intervene in what they called a “stage-managed show trial” and asked London and Washington to “repay their debt” for Mr Musharraf’s support in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.—AFP