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Musharraf's Death Sentence Is Void, Pakistan's Government Says

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Pakistan, a country long dominated by its armed forces, a military dictator has been sentenced to death for high treason for suspending the Constitution. But the government says the special court that sentenced the country's former president General Pervez Musharraf is void. NPR's Diaa Hadid has more from Lahore.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: The verdict was unheard of in Pakistan and, for many, unimaginable in a country where four military generals had ruled the country for nearly half of its 70 years. Omar Waraich is an analyst and deputy director of South Asia for Amnesty International. We spoke by phone.

OMAR WARAICH: It's actually a huge, huge deal. The idea of anyone senior in the armed forces, let alone a former military ruler, being held accountable in this way is unprecedented.

HADID: The punishment isn't likely to be carried out. Musharraf was tried in absentia because he now lives in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He resigned from power in 2008, a year after he suspended the Constitution and imposed a state of emergency.

Since then, Pakistan's been ruled by civilians, but the army is still considered the country's most powerful institution, and it's quite close to the current government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan. In fact, the attorney general told local media that he thinks a special court doesn't have legitimacy. It was created at the instigation of the government that was in power in 2013. The attorney general's statement echoes the military spokesman who tweeted that due legal process was ignored.

This is Ammara Durrani, a political analyst.

AMMARA DURRANI: In that context, for the judiciary to take a very bold stance is huge because despite ostensible strengthening of democracy, the army is perceived as a sacred cow.

HADID: With the army and government on one side, the judiciary is pushing back. That's a role it stepped into in the past few years as it tries to demonstrate it's independent of both. This is Waraich, the analyst, again. You can hear the tick-tock of his car indicator in the background.

WARAICH: You could see the judiciary saying, no one is above the law; we will hold the powerful accountable.

HADID: He says the judiciary isn't going to take orders, and that's a challenge to those who've always seen the military as beyond account.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Lahore.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUKE PHILLIP, PAUL BERNARD JEFFERIES & BIG A'S "JAIPUR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.