Pervez Musharraf, the army chief who took over Pakistan in a 1999 coup and ruled as president for another nine years, was indicted Monday by a special court in Islamabad on five counts of high treason.
As The Associated Press says, those are charges that carry the death penalty and are "a sharp blow to the country's powerful military."
NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Islamabad that "the case is being seen as a milestone in an effort to rein in Pakistan's military, which has ruled the country for much of its short history. No former army chief has ever been tried, let alone for treason."
"The accusations," Philip adds, "concern Musharraf's decision to suspend the country's constitution and impose a state of emergency in 2007."
Musharraf professed his innocence on Monday, the AP writes:
"I am being called a traitor," he said. "I put the country on the path of progress after 1999 when the country was being called a failed and a defaulted state. ... Is this the way to reward someone for being loyal to the country and for loving the country?"
As we've previously reported, Musharraf departed Pakistan shortly after he left power in 2008. He returned from self-imposed exile last March. After his arrival, he talked of running for office again. But his legal troubles began almost immediately when he was accused of not adequately protecting former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007.
The AP notes that he's also facing charges involving "the death of a Baluch separatist leader killed by the army, the killing of a radical cleric and the detention of Pakistani judges. But the treason case is by far the most serious."
Whether the 70-year-old Musharraf will remain in Pakistan for his trial on the treason charges is uncertain. After suffering chest pains in January, he was admitted to a hospital in Rawalpindi. His lawyers asked Monday that Musharraf be allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment and to see his mother in Dubai.
According to the AP, attorney Farogh Naseem said Musharraf's mother "is dying, for God's sake. ... He will come back. He wants to face the trial. He wants his name to be cleared."
But as the wire service also notes:
"Musharraf's rush to a military hospital in early January sparked speculation that the military was moving to protect him and that he would soon leave the country under guise of receiving medical treatment."