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Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf fled court in a speeding vehicle Thursday to avoid arrest after his bail was revoked in a case involving his decision to fire senior judges while in power over five years ago.
The harried escape broadcast live on Pakistani media 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 raced 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.
If Musharraf were sent to prison, it would be the first time a Pakistani army chief has been put behind bars.
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.
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 gun-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.
Musharraf released a video message online late Thursday saying he had done great things for the country and asking, “Why am I being stopped from taking part in politics?”