July 30, 2009 / 11:49 AM / in 10 years

Pakistan judge says won't try Musharraf for treason

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s top judge turned down a request on Thursday to launch a treason case against former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, saying the Supreme Court lacked the authority.

Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharraf smiles during a business meeting in New Delhi March 8, 2009. REUTERS/B Mathur

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s remarks could reassure both the fragile civilian government and military establishment, as they can ill-afford any fresh crisis at a time when the country is fighting a Taliban insurgency in parts of the northwest.

“This is not the proper forum to initiate such case. We are not authorized to do so,” Chaudhry told the court.

Musharraf was forced to quit as president almost a year ago to avoid impeachment and has been living in London for the past two months.

Hamid Khan, a lawyer who was at the forefront of a movement to oust Musharraf, asked a panel of 14 judges led by Chaudhry to begin treason proceedings on grounds that the general had seized power in a coup in 1999 and violated the constitution to extend his rule in 2007.

Musharraf declared emergency rule in November 2007 and purged the Supreme Court of judges, including chief justice Chaudhry, who might have ruled illegal his re-election while still army chief.

The court last week ordered Musharraf to explain allegations that he appointed new judges under emergency rule in violation of the constitution, but Musharraf and his lawyers have stayed away from the hearings.

President Asif Ali Zardari has had his own reasons to be wary of Chaudhry, as he and his late wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, were only able to return to Pakistan in late 2007 after Musharraf issued an amnesty that protected them from prosecution in old graft cases.

Zardari reluctantly reinstated the chief justice in March to avert a political crisis that could have ended his own presidency.

The army, which stepped back from politics after Musharraf’s ouster, would loath to be dragged into the controversy, but nor would it want to see an old chief humiliated.

Generals have ruled Pakistan for more than half its history since the Muslim state was carved out of the partition of India in 1947, and many people believe they should be held accountable for their actions if democratic institutions are to grow.

Others believe embarking on old vendettas will only create fresh crises at a time when the country needs to move forward.

Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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