Pakistan's Musharraf flees court after bail revoked

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pervez Musharraf, the onetime Pakistani military ruler who said he was not afraid to face jail when he returned to his homeland last month, raced away from court with his security detail today after a judge ordered his arrest in a treason case against him.

Local broadcast footage captured scenes of Musharraf taking flight in a black SUV with a member of his detail perched on the bulletproof vehicle’s side. The dramatic turn represented yet another blow for the former president, who went into self-exile in 2008, facing impeachment for increasingly autocratic efforts to remain in power.

The Islamabad High Court revoked Musharraf’s bail today in a case focused on Musharraf’s suspension of the constitution and declaration of a state of emergency in November 2007, an ultimately futile effort to stanch rising opposition to his nine-year rule.

He sacked judges, ordered political foes arrested and put the chief justice of the Supreme Court under house arrest.

In earlier rulings, the court said those actions amounted to treason and declared Musharraf an offender subject to arrest if he came back to Pakistan.

Musharraf, who returned March 24 to launch what many analysts called a hopeless and ill-advised bid to become prime minister, has met a tepid and sometimes hostile reception from voters. And his campaign hopes were torpedoed earlier this week when a top court in northwestern Pakistan barred him from running for the only parliamentary seat he stood a chance of winning.

Earlier, elections official disqualified him from seats in three other districts where he sought to run in the May 11 national elections.

After Musharraf’s bail was canceled by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court today, the former general and his aides sped past uniformed police and paramilitary forces outside the court to his farmhouse in the Pakistani capital, where local TV stations reported roads were being blocked by police.

Later in the day, while Musharraf remained behind the gates of his fortified home, his attorneys shuttled between the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court to arrange bail. Aasia Ishaq, spokeswoman for his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, said Musharraf would comply with any ruling.

The news footage showed the ex-ruler’s SUV exiting the court unimpeded by the army-controlled paramilitary Rangers. But scenes of a military presence at Musharraf’s home also gave rise to speculation that he was essentially under house arrest.

Ahmed Raza Kasuri, Musharraf’s lawyer, said that was untrue and rejected suggestions that the former strongman fled from court.

“There were hundreds of Rangers in Musharraf’s security escort,” he said. “He went with them and came back with them. It was not an escape.”

Kasuri, talking to reporters outside the opulent compound on the capital’s outskirts, said the man inside was not worried at all about his fate.

“Musharraf is relaxed, confident and happy,” he said. “We were sipping coffee, and he was smoking a cigar.”

The Islamabad High Court issued a judgment later today calling Musharraf’s escape a separate crime. It summoned the top police official in Islamabad to explain how it happened.

The prospect of arrest was clear from the time Musharraf touched down in Karachi on a flight from Dubai, his home in exile. His lawyers had obtained pre-arrest bail in various pending cases against him, gambling that the courts would extend the bail before the elections.

But Musharraf said he didn’t care about going to jail or facing other risks, including the threat of assassination by the Pakistani Taliban, because he was determined to “save” Pakistan.

On Monday, during a news conference at the farmhouse, the media asked whether Musharraf was prepared to be jailed if he lost the cases against him. “If that is the decision,” Musharraf said, “I am not afraid, and I am ready to go.”

Before Musharraf returned, some analysts predicted a potentially destabilizing confrontation between Pakistan’s judiciary and the military if a court ordered his arrest. The question remains unsettled: Will the army that he served in for more than 40 years defend him against going to jail?

Ali Dayan Hasan, director of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, criticized the military for allegedly protecting Musharraf and said it should present him for arrest.

“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,” Hasan said in a statement.

The ex-dictator’s security retinue includes retired military commandos, but Ishaq disputed reports that active service members are also detailed to guard him. She said she doesn’t know how much the military supports him. “Pervez Musharraf is now an ordinary person in Pakistan, not a military dictator.”

Musharraf also faces arrest for alleged involvement in the 2006 killing of a nationalist leader in restive Baluchistan province, and, in another case, he is is accused of failing to provide adequate security to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in Rawalpindi at a 2007 rally after her return to Pakistan. But Interpol, the international police agency, has rejected an effort to have Musharraf detained on those charges.

Musharraf has denied all allegations against him and called them politically motivated.

The retired four-star general also is unpopular here for allying closely with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and eventually allowing CIA drone strikes to be carried out against Islamist extremists on Pakistani soil.

The Pakistani Taliban insurgency has released a video showing a heavily armed hit squad in training exercises, urging Musharraf to surrender to the group, or “otherwise we will hit you from where you would never reckon.”

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