A Pakistani high court on Monday revoked a death sentence handed to former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf in December, reversing the most high profile judgment ever made against a senior army official in the country.
The Lahore-based high court’s decision is a triumph for Pakistan’s powerful military, long considered the country’s most influential institution.
“This is a very good decision. I am very happy that the judgment has been given in line with the law and the constitution,” Gen Musharraf said on Pakistan’s privately owned ARY News network.
The outcome of the December case against the former strongman — who has been living abroad since 2016 when he left Pakistan to seek medical treatment — was the first time a former Pakistani head of state has faced the death sentence and a rare condemnation of a former army chief.
The decision to overturn “will hopefully settle the matter of taking army generals to task in Pakistani courts. After the earlier verdict [in December], many people who support the army were very bitter over how General Musharraf was treated [by the court],” a former general who served under Gen Musharraf told the FT.
The charges related to Mr Musharraf’s decision to impose a nationwide state of emergency when public protests erupted following his decision to sack the chief justice of the supreme court in 2007.
Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s science and technology minister, welcomed Monday’s reversal. “The case has been controversial since day one,” he said on Twitter. “The Lahore (Punjab) high court has taken the right decision legally and morally.”
Pakistan has been ruled by the military for almost half its history since independence in 1947. Mr Musharraf stepped down in 2008, nine years after seizing power in a 1999 military coup, paving the way for a return to civilian rule.
The military is still considered the dominant institution on key policy matters, notably Pakistan’s internal security and foreign relations.
After the initial sentencing, Pakistan’s opposition leaders told the FT that although it was unlikely to be enforced it was symbolically significant. Mr Musharraf is currently based in Dubai, which does not have an extradition treaty with Pakistan.
“At least we saw our judges show courage in a way that would influence future cases [against army Generals],” one senior opposition leader said at the time.
The case against Mr Musharraf was taken up by a special court formed during the tenure of Nawaz Sharif, who served as prime minister from 2013 till 2017. His earlier stint in office ended with Mr Musharraf’s 1999 coup, forcing him into exile.
Some members of Mr Sharif’s party now believe pursuing the former strongman was a mistake. “Our leader [Mr Sharif] should have realised from day one that taking the generals to court was never going to work,” one leader of the Muslim League-Nawaz party told the FT.
Pakistan currently faces a number of destabilzing forces, including potential fallout from rising tensions between the US and Iran and continuing instability in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Its often fraught relations with India have also deteriorated over the past year after Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, decided to end the special status of Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim state.
“The military is central to Pakistan’s security, it’s a delicate time,” said one western official.