April 18, 2013

Pakistan's Musharraf flees court to avoid arrest

The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD — Former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf fled court in a speeding vehicle Thursday to avoid arrest after his bail was revoked in a case involving his decision to fire senior judges while in power over five years ago.

click image to enlarge

In this Monday, April 15, 2013 photo, Pakistan's former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf arrives under tight security to address his party supporters at his house in Islamabad, Pakistan. Musharraf and his security team pushed past policemen and sped away from a court in the country’s capital on Thursday after his bail was revoked in a case in which he is accused of treason. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

The harried escape broadcast live on Pakistani TV marked a new low in Musharraf's troubled return from exile last month to seek a political comeback in the May 11 parliamentary election.

Musharraf made his exit with the help of bodyguards, who pushed him past policemen and paramilitary soldiers and helped him into a black SUV that sped off with a member of his security team hanging on the side of the vehicle. Lawyers taunted the 69-year-old as he roared away, yelling, "Look who is running! Musharraf is running!"

The car carrying the former military strongman dashed to his luxury farmhouse, which is protected by high walls, razor wire and guard towers. Dozens of police and elite commandos blocked the main road that runs to the compound on the outskirts of Islamabad, keeping a crowd of journalists and onlookers at bay. About 20 Musharraf supporters held banners and shouted slogans.

None of the security forces protecting the compound made any move to arrest Musharraf, likely because they were awaiting orders from senior officials trying to figure out how to deal with a delicate situation. Musharraf's legal team said they would appeal the arrest warrant in the Supreme Court.

"A lot of people are going to demand to know why he escaped the custody of the security forces," said Rasul Baksh Rais, a political science professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Pakistan's government seems reluctant to wade into the controversy surrounding Musharraf, especially given his connection to the army, considered the most powerful institution in the country.

Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999 when he was serving as army chief and spent nearly a decade in power before being forced to step down in 2008. He returned last month after four years in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai despite legal challenges and Taliban death threats.

He has received paltry public support, and earlier this week was disqualified from running in the coming 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.

The court order to arrest Musharraf and his decision to flee puts the current army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in an awkward position. There have been calls for paramilitary soldiers protecting Musharraf to arrest him. That could force Kayani to decide whether to protect a former army chief or respect judges who have shown an increasing willingness to go after senior military and civilian officials.

If Musharraf were sent to prison, it would be the first time a Pakistani army chief has been put behind bars.

"General 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," the head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, Ali Dayan Hasan, said in a statement. "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."

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