Islamabad - Pakistan announced on Sunday it would put former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf on trial for treason, punishable by death or life imprisonment, for imposing emergency rule in 2007.
The decision puts the country's civilian leaders on an unprecedented collision course with the all powerful military and comes after Musharraf was granted bail in other criminal cases, stoking rumours a deal for his departure could be imminent.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced the move in a live television broadcast.
"Following the judgement of the Supreme Court and a report submitted by an inquiry committee, it has been decided to start proceedings against General Pervez Musharraf under Article 6 [high treason] of the Constitution," he said.
"It is happening for the first time in the history of Pakistan and the decision has been taken in the national interest."
The minister said the country's Chief Justice would on Monday receive a letter from the government requesting the setting-up of a tribunal of three high court judges to start the proceedings.
The government would also announce a special prosecutor on Monday.
Political analyst Hasan Askari said the move by the government appeared to be aimed at deflecting criticism over its failure on various fronts including law and order and the economy.
He warned it would be counterproductive and likely fail.
"The government would not be successful in this move because it has no credibility," Askari told AFP.
"The government is taking an unchartered course of action which would involve lot of complications and may add to its headaches," he added.
Previous criminal cases
Askari said that the army, which has ruled the country for half of its existence since 1947, would not be happy over the decision against its former chief.
Musharraf is already facing three other major criminal cases dating back to his 1999-2008 rule, including one related to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
There have been rumours in recent months that a deal would be reached for Musharraf to leave Pakistan without going through with his trials.
The speculation gained momentum after he asked a court last week to let him leave the country to visit his sick mother in Dubai. The court was expected to rule on the application on Monday.
Khan, the interior minister, said that three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government had come to power five months ago but had never demonstrated any "revengeful" gesture towards General Musharraf.
Musharraf overthrew the Sharif government in a bloodless military coup in October 1999, but a year later the Supreme Court validated the take over.
He imposed emergency rule in November 2007 shortly before the Supreme Court was due to rule on the legality of his re-election as president a month earlier while still army chief.
He suspended the constitution and parliament, then sacked top judges who declared his actions unconstitutional and illegal.
Musharraf technically became a free man this month when an Islamabad district court granted him bail over a deadly raid on a radical mosque in the capital in 2007.
He left the country in 2008 following the Pakistan's return to democracy, coming back in March 2013 to contest elections that marked the first time one civilian government handed over power to another.
But his return was far from the triumphant occasion he had hoped for.
He was barred from contesting the general election, which was won convincingly by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - the man he ousted from power in 1999 - and was hit with a series of criminal cases dating back to his rule.
Apart from the mosque raid, he faces charges over Bhutto's murder at an election rally in 2007 and the death of a Baluch rebel leader in 2006.
He was put under house arrest in April, itself an unheard of move against a former army chief.