A Pakistani court sentenced one-time leader Pervez Musharraf to death in absentia on Tuesday, concluding a yearslong trial. The three-judge panel previously found the exiled general guilty of high treason for suspending the constitution and imposing a state of emergency in 2007.
Musharraf, who lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai, took power in a bloodless coup in 1999. A cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking moderate, the general became a key US ally in the "war on terror" and escaped at least three al-Qaida assassination attempts during his nine years in office.
His leadership faced no serious challenges until he tried to purge the nation's judiciary and avoid a legal challenge to his rule in March 2007. The move sparked massive nationwide protests and months of turmoil that led to the imposition of a state of emergency.
The retired general resigned in 2008 to avoid impeachment.
"This is a historic judgment. It upholds the constitution and the rule of law in the country," Ahsan Iqbal, secretary-general of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party, told DW.
"There is no way we can disagree with the court's decision. There is ample evidence against Musharraf to convict him for violating the constitution," Hina Jillani, a lawyer and activist, told DW. But she said she was not in favor of the death sentence. "It could have been a life imprisonment."
But the Pakistani army reacted to the verdict, saying that it stands by the former military chief and that the ruling caused a "lot of pain and anguish" among its ranks. It also stressed that Musharraf "can surely never be a traitor."
Haunted by murder of Benazir Bhutto
Musharraf also faces other serious charges, some of which are related to the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a 2007 suicide attack. In 2017, a Pakistani court declared him a fugitive and demanded that he be arrested if he ever returned to the country.
The former leader, who is popular with Pakistan's powerful military and the country's intelligence agencies, returned in 2013 to take part in a parliamentary election, but was soon arrested.
At the time, Musharraf said the move was "politically motivated" and that he was being punished for his services to the country.
The Pakistani government imposed a travel ban on him, but the measure was lifted in 2016, ostensibly to allow the now-76-year-old general to seek medical treatment abroad. He then left for Dubai.
An 'unprecedented' verdict
Despite Musharraf's absence, the court's decision to sentence him to death is seen as a landmark move in a country where judiciary usually avoids going against senior members of the security forces. "It's unprecedented in Pakistan's judicial history," said Jillani, the lawyer.
Not everyone appears to support the court's verdict, however. "It's time to unite the country. There's no benefit in such rulings, which divide the nation and our institutions," said Fawad Chaudhary, Pakistan's minister for science and technology.
"The court pronounced its judgment without hearing Musharraf's arguments. There are loopholes in the entire process," Shahzad Chaudhary, a former high-ranking official of the Pakistani air force, told DW. "He has a right to appeal the verdict in a higher court and he will use this option."
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sri, dj/ng (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Additional reporting by DW correspondent Haroon Janjua from Islamabad.