Islamabad: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday revoked the interim bail of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf and ordered his arrest, but the retired four-star general fled from the court premises with the help of his security escort made up of police and paramilitary personnel.
The 69-year old former president and army chief drove about 10km to his farmhouse residence after the court cancelled his plea for extension of bail and went into consultations with his legal team on future course, most probably knocking at the doors of the Supreme Court for relief.
The bail had been granted to him by the Karachi-based Sindh High Court last month in a case related to detention of over 60 superior courts’ judges including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry after Musharraf suspended the constitution and clamped down emergency on November 3, 2007.
Just as Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui announced the decision, Musharraf’s security detail escorted him out while some police officials who were present in the courtroom and were supposed to take him into custody looked on helplessly.
As the former president left in a bullet-proof black four-wheeler, small groups of supporters and opponents of Musharraf including lawyers, who had gathered near the IHC premises despite a heavy security cordon around its traded vociferous slogans in favour and against him.
Chief Coordinator of Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party, Dr Mohammad Amjad, told reporters that the former president’s lawyers would lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court and was hopeful about a positive outcome.
“But if the top court upholds the IHC decision Musharraf is ready to go to jail,” the APML official said.
The bail cancellation came about three weeks after Musharraf ended his four-year self-exile and returned to Pakistan to take part in the May 11 general elections.
But his bid to enter the election race collapsed when election returning officers and then appellate tribunals disqualified him in all four national assembly constituencies in Karachi, Islamabad, Kasur and Chitral where he had filed his nomination papers.
The main grounds for barring him from elections was his 2007 emergency clampdown, which the Supreme Court had termed unconstitutional in a verdict given on July 31, 2009.
Musharraf’s residence in Chak Shahzad suburbs of Islamabad has turned into a heavily guarded fortress since his arrival there from Karachi, the guards allowing only a limited authorised people inside.
The former president, who is facing life threats from Pakistani Taliban and others, has publicly expressed satisfaction over the security measures for him under the country’s caretaker government.
The government is already confronting a big challenge to ensure a secure environment for the polls amid growing election-related violence.
Legal experts, politicians and others criticised Musharraf for evading arrest.
“He should have gracefully accepted after the IHC verdict like a bold person and politician that he claims to be,” said former chief justice Saeeduzaman Siddiqui.
Senaor Pervaiz Rasheed of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League said the former president should have obeyed the law and shown better conduct.
Syed Munawar Hussain, chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, said the former ruler had adopted an “insulting” attitude towards the court and its decision.
Retired Lieutenant General Talat Masood, now a prominent commentator, said it was evident that the former president “has a dark political future,” adding that his advisers had led him into making a wrong decision of returning to the country.
Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, said this act of the former military ruler “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.”
“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,” Dayan said in a statement.
The statement said that “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.”
Human Rights Watch reiterated its call that Musharraf be held accountable for abuses and reaffirmed that a fair trial for the former military ruler is key to ending impunity for abuses by Pakistan’s security forces.
The case is based on an FIR against the retired general registered in August 11, 2009 on the complaint of Chaudhry Mohammad Aslam Ghumman advocate.
Besides the judges detention case, Musharraf is also accused of involvement in a conspiracy to murder Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and over the 2006 killing of Baloch nationalist leader Akbar Khan Bugti.
A Supreme Court bench is currently hearing petitions seeking his trial for treason because of his 2007 emergency stint.