Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan seemed to have decided to toe the Army line in another important issue as his government decided to defend the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf found guily of treason by a special court. Terming the high treason trial against Musharraf "unfair", the Pakistan government decided to back the appeal of the self-exiled ex-president against the verdict. The powerful Pakistan Army is publicly backing Musharraf after he was sentenced to death for treason.
Prime Minister Imran Khan discussed the issue with his top party aides on Wednesday even as his government decided to support the retired General's appeal.
Musharraf was sentenced to death in absentia on Tuesday for high treason following a six-year legal case. He has been living in Dubai since 2016 after Pakistan's Supreme Court lifted a travel ban allowing him to leave the country to seek medical treatment.
A three-member special court here convicted 76-year-old Musharraf of violating the Constitution by unlawfully declaring emergency rule while he was in power, in a case that had been pending since 2013.
Prime Minister Khan, who returned from Geneva, chaired an emergency meeting of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's core committee where he was briefed by two senior lawyers about the sentence given to Musharraf.
Special Assistant to the PM on Information and Broadcasting, Firdous Ashiq Awan, told the media that Barrister Ali Zafar and Advocate Babar Awan briefed the party leaders about the special court's decision against Musharraf.
"It has been decided that legal team of the party will brief the Cabinet before taking a formal stance over the matter after taking in-depth view of the court's judgment," she said.
Following Musharraf's sentencing, the Pakistan Army said that its former chief can "never be a traitor" and the verdict against him has been received with "lot of pain and anguish" by the Armed Forces personnel.
"The due legal process seems to have been ignored including constitution of special court, denial of fundamental right of self defence, undertaking individual specific proceedings and concluding the case in haste," Pakistan Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said in a statement.
"Armed Forces of Pakistan expect that justice will be dispensed in line with Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan," Ghafoor stressed, piling pressure on the government.
Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa also weighed in and said the armed forces have brought stability by failing all inimical forces operating against the country.
Gen Bajwa made a symbolic visit to the headquarters of the military's Special Services Group (SSG) where he praised their contributions towards defence of the country since the creation of Pakistan.
Musharraf served in the elite SSG from 1966-1972 and during the 1971 Pak-India war, he was a company commander of an SSG commando battalion.
"We have brought stability by failing all inimical forces operating against Pakistan. We shall never let it go away at any cost," Gen Bajwa said.
Musharraf has now become the first military ruler to receive the capital punishment in Pakistan's history.
Alarmed by the military's public statement, Prime Minister Khan quickly deployed two of his trusted aides to assuage the Army to say that the government would defend the self-exiled, ailing ex-president during the hearing of an appeal to be filed on his behalf.
"I will defend the law in the case but not any individual," said Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan in a late-night press conference along with Awan.
He said Musharraf was not given the right of fair trial and the judgement was announced in absentia without recording statement of the accused.
Musharraf has argued that the case was politically motivated and that the actions he took in 2007 were agreed by the government and Cabinet. But his arguments were turned down by the courts and he was accused of acting illegally and abrogating the Constitution.
Khan said the verdict raised questions about the "urgency in pronouncing the judgement when Mr Musharraf was in critical condition in ICU" in Dubai.
"There is no question that a person who had committed treason must be punished but in this case the right of fair trial guaranteed under the Constitution was not ensured. A trial should not just be fair but also seen to be fair," he was quoted as saying by Dawn newspaper.
The charges against Musharraf stem from his imposition of a state of emergency in November 2007, after which dozens of top judges were placed under house arrest or sacked, sparking widespread street protests by lawyers.
Asked if he committed contempt of court by declaring Musharraf's trial as "unfair" during his press conference, the attorney general said: "Once the verdict is announced it becomes a public document and everyone can comment on it."
Awan said some people were celebrating the special court's verdict against Gen Musharraf and hoping for a clash between the institutions.
She also lauded the Army for supporting the civilian government.
Musharraf's sentencing was highly significant in Pakistan where the powerful military has ruled the country for nearly half of its 72-year history.
Meanwhile, Musharraf has expressed disappointment over the court's decision and said he will respond after consulting his lawyers, Geo News reported from Dubai.
Quoting sources, the report said Musharraf was discharged from hospital but his health was still deteriorating.
Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) said the legal requirements for the verdict were not fulfilled and the decision was one-sided.
APML leader Malik Mubashir said that Musharraf was ready to record the statement in Dubai and the court ruled without hearing his arguments.