Pakistan's Musharraf lashes out after arrest

April 19, 2013 - 2:30 AM
Pakistan

In this Monday, April 15, 2013 photo, Pakistan's former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf addresses his party supporters at his house in Islamabad, Pakistan. Police arrested former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf overnight at his home in the capital, where he had holed up following a dramatic escape from court to avoid being detained, officials said Friday. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf criticized allegations against him as "politically motivated" Friday, following his arrest in a case involving his decision to fire senior judges while in power.

Police arrested former Musharraf overnight at his home in the capital, Islamabad, where he holed up following a dramatic escape from court Thursday morning to avoid being detained. Musharraf fled the Islamabad High Court in a speeding vehicle after a judge rejected his bail and ordered his arrest.

It was a new low in Musharraf's troubled return from self-imposed exile last month to attempt a political comeback in the upcoming parliamentary election.

Police presented Musharraf before Islamabad District Court on Friday morning after arresting him, said police officer Mohammed Khalid. Local TV video showed Musharraf entering the court surrounded by a heavy security detachment of police and paramilitary soldiers.

The district court judge instructed police to keep Musharraf in their custody for two days and then present him before an anti-terrorism court, said one of his lawyers, Malik Qamar Afzal. His legal team is trying to decide what to do next, said Afzal.

Police returned Musharraf to his home on the outskirts of Islamabad, where he is being held under house arrest, said police officer Mohammed Rafique.

"These allegations are politically motivated, and I will fight them in the trial court, where the truth will eventually prevail," Musharraf said in a message posted on his Facebook page Friday after he was arrested.

The decision by the police to arrest Musharraf ended an awkward situation in which the former military ruler was being protected by security forces for hours while holed up in his house, but none of them made a move to detain him. They were likely awaiting orders from senior officials trying to figure out how to deal with the delicate situation.

Pakistan's government has been reluctant to wade into the controversy surrounding Musharraf since he returned last month, especially given his position as a former chief of the army, considered the most powerful institution in the country.

His return also presents complications for the current army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who may have to decide whether to intervene to protect Musharraf or watch him be prosecuted. If Musharraf is sent to prison, it would be the first time an army chief has been put behind bars in the country's 65-year history.

Musharraf seized control in a coup in 1999 and spent nearly a decade in power before being forced to step down in 2008. Despite legal challenges and Taliban death threats, he returned last month after four years in London and Dubai.

But he has received paltry public support, and earlier this week he was disqualified from running in the May 11 election because of his actions while in power. A court has also barred him from leaving the country.

The upcoming vote is historic because it will mark the first time in Pakistan that parliament has completed its full five-year term and handed over power in democratic elections. The country has experienced three military coups and constant political instability since it was founded in 1947.

Thursday's case before the Islamabad High Court involved Musharraf's decision to dismiss senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, when he declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution in 2007. He was concerned the judges would challenge his re-election as president, citing the growing Taliban insurgency in the country as justification for the state of emergency.

The man who filed the petition before the Islamabad High Court, Aslam Ghuman, also accused Musharraf of placing the judges under house arrest.

Musharraf's spokeswoman, Aasia Ishaq, denied he issued an arrest order then, even though the judges were clearly confined to their homes. Government officials at the time claimed they restricted the movement of the judges for their own security.

Musharraf's crackdown on the judges outraged many Pakistanis and fueled a nationwide protest movement by lawyers that eventually resulted in him stepping down under threat of impeachment.

Before he returned to the country, Musharraf was granted bail for the judges' case and two others, meaning he could not be arrested when he landed — a feature of Pakistan's legal system. But the bail agreement was temporary.

An Islamabad High Court judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who extended the bail agreement once on April 12, refused to do so again Thursday and ordered Musharraf's arrest, according to a copy of the court order. The judge ordered Musharraf to be investigated under an anti-terrorism law, which does not allow bail, the order said.

Siddiqui wrote that Musharraf's "shameful" decision to arrest judges "spread fear in society ... and terror throughout Pakistan."

Immediately following the judge's arrest order, Musharraf's bodyguards hustled him out of the court past policemen and paramilitary soldiers and helped him into a black SUV. The vehicle sped off with a member of Musharraf's security team hanging on the side of the vehicle.

The security forces on duty at the court seemed caught off guard, and nobody appeared to try to prevent Musharraf from leaving as he pushed past them.

Lawyers taunted the 69-year-old as he roared away, yelling, "Look who is running! Musharraf is running!"

Musharraf is facing a raft of other legal challenges, including allegations before the Supreme Court that he committed treason while in power. He also faces legal charges in two other cases. One involves allegations that Musharraf didn't provide adequate security to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a gunfire and suicide attack in 2007. The other relates to the death of a nationalist leader in Baluchistan in 2006.

Given the legal challenges and Taliban threats against Musharraf, many experts have been left scratching their heads as to why he returned. Some have speculated he misjudged the level of public backing he would get, while others suggested he was simply homesick.