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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It is true that politics in many places can be a dangerous game, and this is especially true in Pakistan. Gen. Pervez Musharraf was that country's military ruler for nearly a decade. This year, he returned home after four years of self-imposed exile. The former dictator was hoping to run for office again. Instead, he's set to become the first-ever ex-army chief to be tried for treason. NPR's Philip Reeves has the story.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Opponents of Musharraf have a long list of grievances. There's the coup in which Musharraf seized power, in 1999. There's his crackdown on Pakistan's judiciary in which he sacked the chief justice. There's the arrest and detention of lawyers who took to the streets, to protest. But the treason case against Musharraff concerns just one item on that list, something that happened one night six years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: That inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan, and I cannot allow this country to commit suicide.
REEVES: On the third of November 2007, Gen. Musharraf appeared on TV to announce that he was imposing a state of emergency on Pakistan. Musharraf's excuse was that he was saving Pakistan from turmoil, including the confrontation with the judiciary and also, a rapidly spreading Islamist insurgency. Under emergency rule, the turmoil grew. So did the opposition to his rule, led by Pakistan's lawyers.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)
REEVES: The following year, facing the threat of impeachment, Musharraf resigned. Now, Musharraf's past is returning to haunt him. The civilian prime minister who Musharraf deposed back in 1999 was Nawaz Sharif. Sharif's back in office, and seems determined to make sure no army general can seize power again.
Prosecuting Musharraf for treason is one way of doing that, says Ziauddin Muhammad, editor of the Express Tribune newspaper.
ZIAUDDIN MUHAMMAD: Nawaz and most of the politicians in this country perhaps have come to the conclusion that they need to punish a military general once, for all.
REEVES: The accusation against Musharraf is that by imposing a state of emergency, he violated Pakistan's constitution. Lawyer Ahmed Raza Kasuri is No. 2 in Musharraf's political party. Kasuri says trying the general for treason will open a Pandora's box because hundreds of top officials were involved in imposing the emergency.
AHMED RAZA KASURI: We have prepared a list of about 800 people; military generals - which include military generals; senior bureaucrats; about 80 judges of the superior courts.
REEVES: Kasuri disputes the evidence against Musharraf, and says the real reason the government's pursuing the case is because Pakistan's in trouble.
KASURI: This is a diversionary tactics.
REEVES: A diversionary tactic?
KASURI: This is a diversionary tactics because people of Pakistan's eyes are focused on poverty, hunger, rice hike(ph).
REEVES: The lawyers' enclave in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, is a warren of alleys. Clerks sit on wooden benches outside and for a few cents, tap out affidavits on battered computers. It will be a long time before the lawyers here forget their battle to stop Musharraf interfering with the judiciary.
Nissa Shah(ph) wound up in jail for leading an anti-Musharraf demonstration. He says he's glad the general is going to be tried for treason. He thinks it's important to defend Pakistan's constitution. As for that warning about opening a Pandora's box...
NISSA SHAH: (Through translator) Let it be opened. Let's (unintelligible) who have committed crimes in the past. This is doing Pakistan a great service.
REEVES: Analysts warn that this case could take Pakistan into precarious terrain. Pakistan's civilian leaders and the military top brass have an abrasive relationship. Trying Musharraf risks further alienating the generals, and that's dangerous.
KASURI: Army is one extended clan.
REEVES: Ahmed Raza Kasuri, from Musharraf's political party, says army officers are not happy that their former chief's facing prosecution.
KASURI: People are talking; they say the people are feeling very upset, the demand from our clan is being mistreated, you see.
REEVES: Attempts are being made to prosecute Musharraf for several other alleged offenses, though their success is far from certain. Analysts say the treason case is Musharraf's biggest problem. If convicted, he faces life in prison or theoretically, the death penalty, though that's considered very unlikely. Kasuri says the general's undeterred.
KASURI: He is psychologically very strong. See, he's a commander and commanders are normally very brave people.
REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.