Musharraf indicted on five counts of treason

Pervez MusharrafA special court in Islamabad on Monday indicted Pakistan's former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, on five counts of high treason, a charge that potentially carries death penalty, and then heard a lengthy defence from the former general.

This is the first time in the country's history that a serving or former army chief has been indicted in court.

Paramilitary Rangers and the police took up positions inside the courtroom to ensure security for the judges and the accused as a three-member bench of the court led by Justice Faisal Arab resumed the hearing of the high treason case. The two other judges were Justice Tahira Safdar and Justice Yawar Ali.

The court summoned Musharraf to the rostrum where Justice Tahira Safdar read out the charge-sheet. The first charge was that Musharraf abrogated the Constitution by slapping emergency on 3 November 2007 and trampled fundamental human rights. Musharraf denied the charge and pleaded not guilty.

Justice Tahira Safdar read out the second charge: ''You introduced illegal amendments to the Constitution between November 20, 2007 and December 14, 2007 which was an unconstitutional act.'' Musharraf again denied the charge, standing straight as a ramrod.

The third charge was that he issued the PCO illegally, forced the superior court judges to take oath under it and removed those who did not take oath. The accused refused to accept the charge.

The fourth charge was that the accused removed those judges who did not take oath under the PCO and put them under house arrest. The fifth charge related to the imposition of the emergency and holding the Constitution in abeyance.

Musharraf repeated his remark, ''I plead not guilty.'' After having been charge-sheeted, Musharraf said he wanted to explain who was a traitor. Justice Faisal Arab asked him who was a traitor in his eyes.

''I honour this court and the prosecution. I strongly believe in the law; I don't have ego problems. I have appeared in the court 16 times this year in Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi,'' said the 70-year-old former president.

''I am being called a traitor. I have been chief of army staff for nine years and I have served this army for 45 years. I have fought two wars. Is that 'treason'? I am not a traitor. For me traitors are those who loot public money and empty the treasury,'' he added, in a veiled reference to civilian politicians long accused of feathering their own nests while in power.

The former president said in his view a traitor sells the secrets of his country, puts the country's defence at stake and lays down arms before the enemy.''I took no such step and I defended the country in the three different wars of 1965, 1971 and Kargil. I never took bribes nor did anyone dare to offer bribes to me. Seventeen billion dollars were left in the national exchequer when I left the government but I don't know how this amount plunged to three or four billion dollars.

''During my stint, foreign loans stood at 37 billion dollars but now they have swollen to above 70 billion dollars. The national kitty was plundered badly.

 ''I put the country on the path of progress after 1999 when the country was being called a failed and a defaulted state. Is this the way to reward someone for being loyal to the country and for loving the country?''

He further said, ''I gave all to the country and took nothing. I contained inflation. The national economy was fortified. During my tenure the rate of development remained higher in Balochistan than in other provinces.''