Pakistan’s dilemma

Pakistan's indictment of former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf has broken new ground


Pakistan's indictment of former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf has broken new ground in the political life of that country.

The primary accusation against Mr. Musharraf, made in an anti-terrorism court, is that he conspired to murder former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007 while he was president. He pleaded not guilty and was kept under house arrest. Mr. Musharraf had returned to Pakistan from exile in the United Kingdom and Dubai to run in last May’s election, but was disqualified.

Under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former top generals such as Mr. Musharraf are no longer immune from prosecution. Then-General Musharraf overthrew Mr. Sharif in a 1999 military coup, sending him into exile in Saudi Arabia after putting him on trial.

But the prime minister is taking a big risk in letting Mr. Musharraf be indicted. The former four-star general is 70 years old and poorly positioned to play politics within the Pakistani military. Yet that institution still plays a large political and economic role, having ruled Pakistan for half of its 66 years of independence.

Pakistani officers probably don’t want Mr. Musharraf back in political life. But they also don’t want one of their own to face trial or prison.

It might be hard for prosecutors to make a case against Mr. Musharraf for involvement in Ms. Bhutto’s assassination. She appeared to be on a relentless quest for public attention, which in Pakistan can make security for a political leader difficult to provide.

Mr. Sharif would do well to let the former general return to exile. Then he could focus his efforts on making peace with the Taliban, seeing U.S. forces leave Afghanistan, improving relations with India, and improving the economy.

These should be higher priorities than dogging Mr.Musharraf and taking on the army — unless Pakistan really has the goods on him.