ISLAMABAD -- From October 1999 to February 2008, Pervez Musharraf held unequaled power in Pakistan as the country’s dictatorial president and a key ally in the United States’ war on terror. President George W. Bush was considered a close personal friend.
On Thursday, however, Musharraf was holed up at his farmhouse in Islamabad’s Chak Shahzad suburb after a high court denied him a bail extension and ordered his arrest in one of a plethora of cases outstanding against him.
Several hundred police, backed by federal paramilitary troops and anti-terrorist squads, sealed off the area around the residence for much of the day before withdrawing, apparently after Musharraf was declared under house arrest and his house made a temporary jail under the administration of officials from the Adiala prison in adjacent Rawalpindi.
As Musharraf sweated it out at the farmhouse, Pakistan’s caretaker government contemplated whether to bring Musharraf to trial. The country’s Supreme Court has ordered it to do so – or the court will take action on its own.
Thursday’s developments were the latest in a series of body blows to Musharraf, who returned from exile in March in an effort – many thought misguided – to regain some sort of status in Pakistan’s political system. Instead, he found that over the five years since he’d been forced to step down as president, Pakistan had become a vibrant democracy in which no one institution, including the army, can call the shots.
On Tuesday, Musharraf was disqualified from running for office in next month’s general elections. He’d already been barred from leaving Pakistan because of serious charges initiated while he lived in exile from 2009.
Musharraf’s lawyers had not expected the court to deny him a bail extension – the initial bail had been granted to allow his return – and the stunned former president had to be hustled away by bodyguards to avoid arrest on the premises. A cavalcade of armored cars effected the former president’s high-speed getaway to his farmhouse.
The court later issued an order demanding that the police explain why he wasn’t seized before he left the courthouse and that action be taken “against those police officials who remained napping instead of performing their duty.”
Since Musharraf returned to Pakistan in late March, Pakistan’s caretaker government has been under mounting media pressure to launch prosecutions against him for cases ranging from treason to murder. However, it has balked at the prospect of taking on the former dictator, largely because Pakistan’s powerful military would be severely embarrassed.
The military has ruled Pakistan for half its 65-year existence, with Musharraf leading the fourth junta. The current army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, still exercises a virtual veto on foreign and defense policy, but in principle he supports the current 5-year-old democratic process and is watching a second consecutive election campaign from the sidelines.
The scene was a far cry from Musharraf’s heyday after he overthrow the country’s elected government in 1999. By the summer of 2006, he seemed on the verge of cutting a peace deal with India, with which Pakistan had fought three wars since the two countries attained independence from British colonial rule in 1947.