Islamabad: Former dictator Pervez Musharraf on Thursday fled from the Islamabad High Court complex after a judge revoked his bail and directed police to immediately arrest him, setting the stage for a potential standoff between the assertive judiciary and the powerful military.
Musharraf, 69, appeared in court this morning for the extension of his interim bail in a case related to the sacking of over 60 judges during the 2007 emergency. However, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui rejected his application and ordered police to arrest him.
Police tried to reach the former President but his security detail of army commandos rushed him out of the courtroom and escorted him to his black SUV. Musharraf's motorcade drove out of the complex before police could act. A large contingent of police and paramilitary personnel deployed at the complex to provide security to Musharraf also did not act as the former dictator's bodyguards pushed through a crowd of lawyers and bystanders.
Musharraf, who returned to Pakistan on March 24 after a nearly four-year long self-imposed exile abroad to contest the May 11 general elections, is currently holed up in his Chak Shahzad farmhouse on the outskirts of the federal capital.
If Musharraf is arrested, he would become the first former army chief to face such an action. Analysts said this could put the judiciary in conflict with the powerful military, which would not like to see a former chief being humiliated or insulted in public. The analysts further said that if Musharraf was put on trial, members of the current military leadership, including army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, could be dragged into the matter as they were part of Musharraf's inner circle when he imposed emergency rule in 2007.
In a message posted on Facebook, Musharraf's office said: "We expect this unwarranted judicial activism, seemingly motivated by personal vendettas since his return to Pakistan...will cease and the Supreme Court, without prejudice, will immediately grant necessary relief...the absence of which can result in unnecessary tension amongst the various pillars of state and possibly destabilise the country".
Sources told PTI that the government was considering a proposal to declare Musharraf's farmhouse a "sub-jail" so that he could be detained there. Authorities believe it would be better to hold Musharraf at his residence in view of serious threats to his life, the sources said.
Musharraf's motorcade drove from the court to his farmhouse, where he spent the rest of the day consulting aides and legal experts. Musharraf's lawyers were unable to appeal against the order for his arrest in the Supreme Court as they did not have a copy of the High Court's order. The Supreme Court office directed the lawyers to file the appeal on Friday.
Mohammad Amjad, a senior leader of Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League party, told reporters the former President was "not hiding or a fugitive". He said, "He is in his home, protected by police and Pakistan Rangers". Amjad also said Musharraf would act according to the law and if the legal experts deemed it necessary, he would surrender to the authorities.
Soon after Musharraf returned to his farmhouse, a contingent of Pakistan Rangers personnel deployed to protect him left the residence. Some analysts contended this was a sign that the security establishment would not back Musharraf.
Later in the day, additional policemen and members of the Anti-Terrorism Squad were deployed around the farmhouse. All roads leading to the residence with high walls and guard towers were sealed by police and local residents were asked to use different routes.
Some reports said that a police team had reached his residence to arrest him. However, no developments were reported after that.
In its detailed order revoking Musharraf's bail, the Islamabad High Court questioned why police had not arrested the former military ruler. The judge summoned the Islamabad Police chief on Friday to explain the steps that had been taken to arrest Musharraf.
The judge further said it was a "separate offence" that Musharraf's bodyguards had helped him to escape. The judge said the Anti-Terrorism Act would also be applied in the case against Musharraf as barring judges from doing their work during the 2007 emergency was tantamount to terrorism.
During the hearing, Deputy Attorney General Tariq Mehmood Jahangir told the court that Musharraf had been granted interim bail on the condition that he would cooperate with police officials investigating the case. Justice Siddiqui was told by the investigating officer that Musharraf had not come to the police station or cooperated with the probe.
The case against Musharraf is based on an FIR filed in August 2009 by a lawyer named Chaudhry Mohammad Aslam Ghumman. Ghumman had asked police to initiate proceedings against Musharraf for detaining over 60 judges, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, after imposing emergency on November 3, 2007.
Since Musharraf returned to Pakistan last month after nearly four years in self-exile, he has been in and out of court several times to get his bail extended over the 2007 killing of former premier Benazir Bhutto, the death of a Baloch leader Akbar Bugti in a 2006 military operation and for imposing emergency rule in 2007.
The Taliban have also threatened to target him. Earlier this week, Musharraf was disqualified from contesting next month's general election, effectively ending his ambitions for a political comeback. Musharraf had overthrown then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999 and had ruled till 2008 when he resigned and went into self-exile.
He had been shuttling between London and Dubai during his nearly four years of self-exile.