Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered officials on Wednesday to begin a treason investigation of former military ruler and army chief Pervez Musharraf, bringing him closer to trial.

The case sets up a possible clash between the government and the powerful army, a worrisome prospect in a country with a history of military coups. Musharraf could face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of treason.

The government told the Supreme Court on Monday that Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999, should be put on trial for allegedly committing treason while in office, specifically citing his decision to declare a state of emergency and suspend the constitution in 2007.

The court ordered the government to notify the judges by Wednesday of the steps it would take to try Musharraf and scheduled a hearing for the following day.

Sharif said Wednesday in a written reply to the court that the government would set up a special team to investigate Musharraf for treason under Article 6 of the constitution. After the probe is completed, authorities will constitute the special court required to try him on that charge.

Imaur Rehman, a lawyer who has been critical of Musharraf, described the decision to open an investigation as “bold” and “the first serious step toward holding Musharraf’s trial on treason charges.”

However, another lawyer, Ghulam Nabi, cautioned that the government could use the probe as a way to delay the case and avoid a confrontation with the army. “I think the investigation officer, who will be appointed by the government, will take months to complete his work, and we don’t know whether the officer would come up with enough [of the] evidence required to punish Musharraf,” Nabi said.

The case is personal for Sharif because he was serving as prime minister in 1999 when Musharraf staged his coup. Musharraf ruled for nearly a decade but was forced to step down in 2008 because of growing public discontent. He spent years in exile before returning to the country in March.

— Associated Press