Pakistan’s former president Musharraf flees court after arrest order
Surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards, Pervez Musharraf pushed past police outside the high court in Islamabad shortly after judges refused to extend bail granted last month to the former president.
Despite the order to arrest a man who returned from a four-year self-imposed exile just weeks ago, no attempt was made to stop him as he marched towards a black armoured vehicle, which left the scene with men in suits riding on the car’s running boards.
The vehicle raced towards his purpose-built Mediterranean-style home in the plush Chak Shahzad suburb of Islamabad, creating conditions for a potential standoff between Musharraf and the government, which must decide whether to obey the arrest order.
Some local media reported that the country’s interior ministry were holding an emergency meeting on the situation. Others speculated that Musharraf’s luxury home, which boasts a swimming pool and jogging track, could be reclassified as a jail.
Musharraf faces a number of serious court cases relating to his time in office, including accusations that he conspired to murder former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The court hearing was in connection with his efforts in 2007 to cling to power, which he first grabbed through a military coup, by putting many of the country’s senior judges under house arrest.
His lawyers had secured pre-arrest bail for Musharraf last month, allowing him to fly to Karachi on 24 March without fear of arrest in order to “save” Pakistan. It was the first time he had set foot in his homeland after four years living in Dubai and London.
However, on Thursday the Islamabad high court refused to extend that bail and ordered his arrest,
Musharraf’s return and attempt to run for parliament in next month’s general election has turned into a debacle. He has received little support from the public or any leading political parties that might have allied with his All Pakistan Muslim League.
This week the country’s election commission snuffed out his dream of a return to politics by banning him from running in elections in any of the four constituencies he hoped to contest. With some analysts speculating that the country’s powerful military establishment will step in to protect Musharraf, a former army chief of staff, Human Rights Watch issued a statement demanding he face justice.
“General Musharraf’s act today underscores his disregard for due legal process and indicates his assumption that as a former army chief and military dictator he can evade accountability for abuses,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director of the US-based group.
“It is essential that Pakistan’s military authorities which are protecting the former dictator comply with the Islamabad high court’s orders and ensure that he presents himself for arrest.
“Continued military protection for General Musharraf will make a mockery of claims that Pakistan’s armed forces support the rule of law and bring the military further disrepute that it can ill afford.”
Ahmed Raza Qasuri, senior vice president of All Pakistan Muslim League, said: “This is a bailable offence and against any surety bail could be granted. This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that the bail of a person has been rejected in a bailable offence.
“By such rulings the courts are exposing themselves, sending wrong signals to the world. It gives an impression that justice is not being done but personal scores are being settled. Musharraf did not escape from the court. Around 100 Ranger personnel brought him to the court and took him back. How can media call it an escape?”