Musharraf flees court after arrest order

Former exile leaves court in pick-up truck before he could be detained after bail rejected

Pakistan's former president Pervez Musharraf (left) leaves after an  appearance before the High Court in Rawalpindi yesterday. Photograph: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters

Pakistan's former president Pervez Musharraf (left) leaves after an appearance before the High Court in Rawalpindi yesterday. Photograph: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters


Former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf is apparently holed up at his private compound on the outskirts of Islamabad after a court revoked his bail in a case in which he is accused of treason.

Local TV broadcast footage of the dramatic scene earlier today in which Musharraf fled from the court and sped away to his large compound on the outskirts of the capital which is protected by high walls, razor and guard towers.

He was shown jumping into a black pick-up truck to escape as a member of his security team hung to the side of the vehicle.

The case at Islamabad High Court today involved Musharraf’s decision to suspend the constitution and declare a state of emergency in 2007. He also placed senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, under house arrest.

Musharraf obtained pre-arrest bail before he returned to the country last month after four years in self-imposed exile, meaning he could not be arrested when he landed - a feature of Pakistan’s legal system.

But Islamabad High Court refused to extend that bail today and ordered his arrest, police said. Officers were deployed at the court to detain the former military ruler, but he managed to escape.

Dozens of police and elite commandos later blocked the main road leading to the compound where Musharraf was holed up and residents were asked to use another route to go to their homes.

Shouting slogans

About 20 Musharraf supporters who gathered near the compound held banners and shouted slogans in favour of the former military ruler.

This week has gone from bad to worse for Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999 when he was serving as army chief and spent nearly a decade in power before being forced to step down in 2008. He returned last month to make a political comeback despite legal challenges and Taliban death threats, but has since faced paltry public support.

A court in the north-western city of Peshawar on Tuesday disqualified him from running in the parliamentary election scheduled for May 11th, squashing his hopes for political comeback.

Musharraf’s lawyer, Ahmad Raza Kasuri, complained that the Islamabad court did not listen to their arguments. “It is a one-sided decision,” said Mr Kasuri.

A spokeswoman for Musharraf, Saima Ali Dada, said his legal team was trying to decide the next move.

Musharraf’s decision to flee the court could put the Pakistani army in an awkward situation. The former general is protected by paramilitary soldiers who officially report to the Interior Ministry, but are headed by senior army officers.

Ali Dayan Hasan, the director of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, called on the military authorities protecting Musharraf to comply with the court’s order and ensure that he presents himself for arrest.

“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 Mr Hasan in a statement.

“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.”

Treason petitions

If convicted of treason, Musharraf could face the death penalty or life in prison. But the federal government would have to file charges against the former military ruler, which it has not yet done. The petitions in Islamabad High Court accusing Musharraf of treason were all filed by individuals.

Musharraf faces similar accusations from petitions filed before the Supreme Court. He also faces legal charges in several other cases, including the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the murder of a nationalist leader in Baluchistan in 2006.

Musharraf flew to the southern city of Karachi from Dubai on March 24th. He was only met by a couple of thousand people at the airport, a sign of how little support analysts say he enjoys in the country.

The former military ruler applied to run for parliament in four different districts in Pakistan, which is allowed by the country’s political system. Judges initially rejected three of his applications, but an official in the remote northern district of Chitral gave him approval to run.

That changed on Tuesday when the High Court in Peshawar disqualified him in Chitral. He can appeal to the Supreme Court, but legal experts speculated that chances the decision would be overturned were remote.