- By Shamila N. ChaudharyShamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and Senior South Asia Fellow at New America. She served as Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010 – 2011.
Last week Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif initiated treason proceedings against retired general and former president Pervez Musharraf. At face value, it appears Sharif is finally getting his revenge. In 1999, Musharraf, who was then chief of army staff, led a coup against the Sharif government. The coup was triggered by Sharif’s attempt to replace Musharraf because of a disagreement over a military operation in the Kargil district of Kashmir. Sharif’s subsequent imprisonment and eight-year-long exile in Saudi Arabia only added fuel to the fire. No wonder he wants Musharraf charged with treason.
It could be that simple. But the lengthy ledger of complaints against Musharraf shows a more complex set of power dynamics and relationships at work, which goes beyond just the two men. The former president also faces criminal charges related to the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Her supporters continue to claim that Musharraf killed Bhutto for deliberately failing to provide her, a former head of state, with adequate security despite well-known threats to her life.
Musharraf also faces criminal charges in the death of Baluch rebel leader Nawab Bugti in a 2008 military operation. Musharraf is still reviled in Baluchistan for this and other military actions, including the scores of enforced disappearances in the province that occurred under his watch.
In addition to these formal — and serious — charges, Musharraf has been criticized for his questionable security policies. He empowered Islamist parties closely aligned with militants in exchange for their participation in the government; this political gesture inevitably weakened the country’s security environment, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. He is also accused by politicians and the military alike of cultivating a nontransparent and ambiguous relationship with the United States on counterterrorism cooperation at the expense of Pakistan’s national security interests.
None of these actions, however, appears to violate Article 6 of the Constitution, where high treason is defined as:
Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance, the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.