PAKISTAN’S former president Pervez Musharraf was forced to flee a courtroom yesterday after a judge revoked his bail and ordered his arrest.
• Pervez Musharraf faces arrest after fleeing from courthouse after bail bid was rejected
• Hopes of political comeback all but extinguished as court orders ex-ruler’s arrest
Musharraf, 69, had returned to Pakistan from London last month expecting to revive his political fortunes.
But yesterday he had to be bundled into a black, four-wheel-drive vehicle and whisked at high speed to his villa on the edge of Islamabad.
The former military ruler had returned from self-imposed exile to a low-key reception, being met by only 2,000 supporters. He has also been barred from standing in all of the four seats he had hoped to contest in next month’s elections.
Yesterday Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, at Islamabad High Court, ordered his arrest for imposing a state of emergency and imprisoning judges and lawyers in 2007.
The move leaves Musharraf and his supporters wondering whether the government and police dare risk a showdown with the military by trying to arrest him.
Ahmad Raza Kasuri, a member of his legal team, emerged from behind the villa’s high walls and razor wire to say an appeal would be lodged at the Supreme Court today.
“General Musharraf is hale and hearty. He is in high spirits, there is no change in his confidence level. He is sipping coffee and smoking cigars,” he said.
Six policemen stood at the gate. They were detailed to provide security rather than make an arrest.
Mr Kasuri said the judge had been a lawyer in 2007 and had been among those detained.
“Here’s a man [Musharraf], whom everyone dubbed as a dictator, he has submitted himself voluntarily before the majesty of justice and here he is dealing the matter entirely within the domain of law and constitution and here are judges who are biased and vindictive,” he said.
A small crowd gathered near the house in Chak Shazhad, a smart neighbourhood where the properties are described as farmhouses and command vast gardens, to express their support. But there is little public sympathy for the general who came to power in 1999 and fled nine years later as he faced impeachment proceedings.
Since then he has spent most of his time in and out of court as he tries to stave off arrest in a string of cases.
He is accused of conspiracy to murder opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and over the death of a rebel leader during a military operation in 2006.
The Supreme Court is hearing a separate petition from lawyers demanding that Musharraf face trial for treason for subverting the constitution by imposing emergency law in 2007, punishable by death or life in prison.
Analysts believe he and his aides – based in Dubai as well as London – failed to appreciate the depth of feeling inside Pakistan against him.
Talat Masood, a retired general, said trying to return to politics so soon after being forced out as president was always doomed. “If he had stayed away for longer then maybe he could eventually have returned to play some sort of role as senior statesman,” he said.
That still leaves Pakistani authorities with a terrible dilemma. Any move to arrest the former general will provoke the wrath of the military, a powerful force which remains a player in domestic politics.
A senior police official said on condition of anonymity that normal procedure would have been an immediate arrest at the court, but conceded no effort appeared to have been made to detain Musharraf there.
“His home will now most likely be declared a sub-jail and he will be put under house arrest,” he said.
Although such a fudge might avoid an explosive confrontation between the courts and the military, many critics want to see Musharraf brought to justice.
Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, called for the military to allow justice to take its course.
“Gen 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,” he said.
Musharraf: From all-powerful dictator to electoral irrelevancy
Although Pervez Musharraf’s legal battles have provided an electrifying sideshow in Pakistan’s 11 May election race, he commands little support and the outcome of the current drama is unlikely to have much impact on the final results.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the man General Musharraf removed in a coup in 1999, is seen as the front-runner to return as premier.
The polls are seen as a key moment in Pakistan’s attempts to shake off a legacy of decades of military rule, because they represent the first time a democratically elected civilian government has completed a term in office.
Pakistan’s military has ruled the nation for more than half of its 66-year history, through coups or from behind the scenes.
It sets foreign and security policy even when civilian administrations are in power.
But current commanders have meddled far less in politics than during Musharraf’s era, preferring instead to let civilian governments take the heat for the country’s problems.
Pakistan’s judiciary has also taken an increasingly assertive stance in recent years in confrontations with both the government and the army, and the arrest order against a former army chief is sure to rankle some in the military.
Some commentators believe it is unlikely Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup d’etat and resigned in 2008, will be arrested since the Pakistani military would be unlikely to tolerate such a humiliating spectacle for a retired chief. “I don’t think the military establishment would support any move against him,” said political commentator Mehdi Hasan.