A special Pakistani court on Monday indicted former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on five counts of high treason, a charge that potentially carries the death penalty and delivers a sharp blow to the country's powerful military.
The development is the first time that an acting or former army chief has been indicted for treason in Pakistan, where the military has taken power in three coups since the country was founded in 1947.
It's unclear whether the case will ever get to the verdict stage, however. Musharraf's lawyers are pushing for him to be allowed to go abroad to see his ailing mother.
The indictment - the latest high drama in a series of legal cases Musharraf has faced since returning to Pakistan a little over a year ago - showcases the tensions between a civilian government that initiated the case and the military, which has generally been above the law.
Musharraf, who appeared in court on Monday for only the second time since court proceedings began in December, pleaded not guilty and delivered a nearly 30-minute defense of his time in office.
The former general, who has been at a hospital in the nearby city of Rawalpindi since January, said he was appearing in the proceeding against the advice of his medical team.
''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?'' Musharraf asked the court.
On a defense request that Musharraf be allowed to leave the country to see his ailing mother, the judges ruled that they didn't have the authority to remove him from an official exit control list that restricts his movements, essentially leaving the issue to the government.
The three-judge tribunal was constituted just to deal with the treason case.
A lawyer for Musharraf, Ahmed Qasuri, said the legal team would now decide whether to petition the government or the Islamabad High Court to allow him to leave.
If convicted, Musharraf could face the death penalty but it remains unclear whether the trial will ever get that far.
''The mother is dying, for God's sake,'' Musharraf's lawyer, Farogh Naseem, told the court. ''He will come back. He wants to face the trial. He wants his name to