Pakistan's dilemma: The country has higher priorities than Musharraf

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

The primary accusation against him, made in an anti-terrorism court, was conspiring to murder former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007 while Mr. Musharraf was president. He pleaded not guilty and was kept under house arrest. He had returned to Pakistan from exile in the United Kingdom and Dubai to run in the May election, but his candidacy was disqualified.

It appears that under current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former top generals such as Mr. Musharraf are no longer immune from prosecution for past sins. Then-Gen. Musharraf had overthrown Mr. Sharif in a 1999 military coup, sending him into exile in Saudi Arabia after putting him on trial, so there are major scores to settle between the two.

But the prime minister may have bitten off more than he can chew in letting Mr. Musharraf be indicted. Even though the former four-star general is 70 and less positioned to play politics within the Pakistani military, that organization 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. (Pittsburghers will recall that Mr. Musharraf lectured here in 2009 as part of Robert Morris University's Pittsburgh Speakers Series.)

It might be difficult for prosecutors to make a case against Mr. Musharraf regarding 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 and focus his efforts on making peace with the Taliban, seeing U.S. forces exit Afghanistan with a minimum of strain and maximum of profit for Pakistan, improving relations with neighboring rival India and seeking to improve the state of Pakistan's ragged economy. These should be higher priorities than dogging Pervez Musharraf and taking on the army, unless Pakistan really has the goods on him.



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