ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's caretaker government told the Supreme Court on Monday it will not file treason charges against former military ruler Pervez Musharraf but will leave the decision on that to the winner of the upcoming election.
The petitions before the Supreme Court alleging Musharraf committed treason while in power constitute just one of several legal challenges he is facing following his recent return to Pakistan from self-imposed exile.
The former military strongman was placed under house arrest over the weekend in connection with a different case, which involves his decision to fire senior judges while in power.
Musharraf's detention was the latest in an array of setbacks he has faced since returning home last month with hopes of making a political comeback.
Lawyers have filed private petitions before the Supreme Court alleging Musharraf committed various treasonable offenses, including toppling a civilian government, suspending the constitution and declaring a state of emergency.
But according to Pakistan's constitution, the government is the only one with authority to file treason charges against Musharraf.
Attorney General Irfan Qadir submitted a statement to the Supreme Court on Monday, saying caretaker officials have decided not to file treason charges because it was not part of their mandate.
The caretaker government should avoid controversial matters that are not reversible by the winner of the May 11 parliamentary election, Qadir said. Instead, he added, caretaker officials are focused on routine matters, such as ensuring security for the upcoming election.
However, Law Minister Ahmer Bilal Soofi indicated that caretaker officials would not defy the Supreme Court if the judges ordered the government to act.
"At present all the focus, the attention is on the election arrangement," Soofi told reporters in Islamabad. "But we will be ready to proceed according to what the court asks us to do."
The interim government took over last month and will hold power until a new government is formed after the vote.
At this point, it's unclear how the next government will choose to proceed in the case of treason charges against Musharraf.
The front runner to become the next prime minister is Nawaz Sharif, who was toppled by Musharraf in a military coup when he was serving as premier in 1999.
Musharraf held power for nearly a decade until he was forced to step down in 2008 because of growing discontent with his rule. He returned despite Taliban death threats and an array of legal challenges.
But upon his homecoming, Musharraf encountered paltry levels of public support and was disqualified to run in the upcoming election because of his actions while in office.
Things got even worse last week, when Musharraf fled a court in the capital Islamabad to avoid arrest after a judge rejected his bail and ordered his detention. The arrest order was connected to Musharraf's decision in 2007 to dismiss senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, apparently out of concern that they would challenge his re-election as president.
Musharraf was eventually placed under house arrest at his heavily guarded compound on the outskirts of Islamabad until the next hearing on May 4.
Associated Press writer Asif Shahzad contributed to this report.