KARACHI, Pakistan — An Islamabad court ordered the arrest of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on Thursday, in a move painted as retribution for the former leader's controversial decision to illegally detain Pakistan’s top judges during emergency rule in 2007.
However, straight after the judge made his ruling, the ex-general fled the courtroom surrounded by security guards — several of them paramilitary commandos — who prevented local police waiting outside the Islamabad courtroom from taking him into custody.
"News stations are playing the clip of him being escorted out of the courtroom quickly, over and over again. Everyone keeps talking about how this actually happened, how the police should have arrested him while he was in the courtroom," GlobalPost's Mariya Karimjee wrote from Karachi.
The guards whisked Musharraf to his farmhouse in the upscale suburb of Chak Shahzad, on the outskirts of the capital, where they were guarding him overnight, according to the Australian Associated Press. Musharraf’s legal team is appealing the decision to revoke his bail.
"Many people in Karachi are making fun of Musharraf, who alienated the chief justice of the Supreme Court by sacking him twice," Karimjee said. "Now, Musharraf's only legal option is to seek bail from the Supreme Court, which seems unlikely given his history with them."
Pakistani TV channels, including the Geo network, filmed Musharraf leaving the court after the bail hearing surrounded by his army guard, with lawyers chanting slogans against the ex-general as his black SUV drove away.
Because Musharraf is a former military dictator, he still enjoys some military protection. Local journalists outside his home in an Islamabad suburb said that members of the Pakistan army — there to protect Musharraf — and police, who were there to arrest him, were all standing outside the compound, awaiting further orders.
"This is the first time in Pakistan's short history that a former military dictator is facing imprisonment," GlobalPost's Karimjee said. "Analysts say that this is a huge step up for Pakistan's democratic ambitions, but the feeling on the ground is still a bit confused. Will this mean a greater standoff between the courts and the military?"
It was not immediately clear when, or if, the retired general would be arrested. The US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch called on those protecting Musharraf to ensure that he presents himself for arrest.
The group's Pakistan director, Ali Dayan Hasan, said:
"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. 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."
However, an official statement from Musharraf's office was defiant:
"We expect this unwarranted judicial activism, seemingly motivated by personal vendettas since his return to Pakistan to participate in the upcoming elections, will cease and the Supreme Court, without prejudice, will immediately grant necessary relief following precedence and the Rule of Law; the absence of which will cause mockery of the nation, can result in unnecessary tension amongst the various pillars of State and possibly destabilize the country."
Musharraf returned to Pakistan last month after nearly four years of self-imposed exile to contest a May 11 general election, despite the possibility of arrest on various charges, Reuters wrote.
The current case is one of three against Musharraf in the Pakistani courts. He is also accused of conspiracy to murder opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and accused of having a role in the death of a Baluch rebel leader during a military operation in 2006.
Musharraf has described the cases against him as "baseless" and politically motivated. But he has little popular support, and election officials have barred him from running for the National Assembly. He has also been barred by a court from leaving the country.
While everything happening to Musharraf currently makes for dramatic news, the situation has little to no bearing on the final results of the upcoming elections. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the man Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999, remains the front-runner to win that race.
Mariya Karimjee contributed to this report from Karachi, Pakistan.