In Pakistan, a Deadly Tradition Continues

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Governing Pakistan's a lot easier when your predecessor isn't around. Coup leader General Parvez Musharraf on Wednesday announced that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif will be charged with conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. The charges, which arise from the alleged attempt by Nawaz to stop the general's plane from landing in Pakistan after firing him as commander of the Pakistani military, carry the death penalty. "This appears to be General Musharraf’s solution to the problem of what to do about Nawaz," says TIME New Delhi correspondent Maseeh Rahman. "The general had to find a way to keep the well-connected Nawaz from mounting a challenge to his regime." Disposing of the head of the ancien régime has become something of a tradition in Pakistani politics: General Zia-ul-Haq had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto hanged after taking power in a 1977 coup; Bhutto's daughter, Benazir, didn't have to bother since it was the plane crash that killed General Zia that allowed her to come to power in 1988. Then, Nawaz Sharif put Benazir out of action with a slew of corruption charges against her and her family. And now it's Nawaz's turn.

So how will Pakistanis respond to the charges? "The allegation that Nawaz tried to stop General Musharraf's plane from landing in Pakistan will be taken very seriously by Pakistanis," says Rahman. "After all, that would have forced it to land in India, which would have put the head of Pakistan's armed forces into the hands of their enemy." And it's certainly a more effective means of neutralizing any political challenge from Nawaz than charging him with corruption would have been. After all, the idea that politicians are corrupt is hardly considered breaking news in Pakistan.