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Asia

Musharraf's road to freedom 'blocked'

A Pakistani court has said that the country's 'Criminal Procedure Code' will apply in former military ruler Pervez Musharraf's treason trial. As a result, an out-of-court settlement looks all the more unlikely.

On Thursday, January 2, Musharraf (main picture) was taken to a military hospital after suffering a "heart problem" on his way to court. The 70-year-old former president had been summoned by a special tribunal in Islamabad for declaring a state of emergency and suspending the constitution in 2007, at the end of his eight-year authoritarian rule. Musharraf is Pakistan's first former military chief to face such a trial.

As Musharraf recuperates in hospital, the local and international media speculate about a possible deal between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government and Musharraf, as the treason case has already strained the civilian government's ties with Pakistan's ubiquitous army generals who are reportedly unhappy with the way their former leader is being treated.

But the special court's ruling on Friday, January 10, has temporarily dashed the hopes of Musharraf's supporters, who were expecting the former army chief to be allowed to leave the country for medical treatment. The court, which ordered a hearing next week, ruled that the case would be dealt under the Islamic Republic's "Criminal Procedure Code." The tribunal says that a medical report on Musharraf's health indicates he had not suffered a heart attack and there was therefore no reason why he should not appear before the court. Musharraf has reportedly agreed show up in court.

DW's Islamabad correspondent, Shakoor Rahim, says that after this decision the court can issue Musharraf's arrest warrant if he fails to comply with its orders. He also says that it is likely that the court will formally indict Musharraf on January 16 when he presents himself at the tribunal.

Majid Siddiqui, a senior journalist in Karachi, claims that the application of the "Criminal Code Procedure" to Musharraf's case is a serious blow which has blocked "the general's road to freedom."

"I don't think that the incumbent government is in a position to strike a deal with Musharraf now. The Criminal Code Procedure won't allow it, and Musharraf must go to court," Siddiqui told DW, adding that the former ruler was "in deep trouble."

The rise and fall of Musharraf

The 70-year-old had ruled the country from 1999 to 2008. He ousted the incumbent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless military coup in 1999. When the elected government led by Yousuf Raza Gilani came to power in 2008, and Musharraf was impeached, he went into self-imposed exile for five years. Musharraf returned to Pakistan from Dubai on March 24 last year with the sole purpose of contesting May 11 parliamentary elections. But the Election Commission of Pakistan disqualified him from taking part in elections, as a number of cases were pending against him in courts.

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) flashes a victory sign as his brother Shabaz Sharif (L) looks on at a polling station in Lahore on February 18, 2008. (Photo: AFP)

Musharraf supporters say PM Sharif has a personal vendetta against their leader

In November, an Islamabad district court granted Musharraf bail over a deadly raid on a radical mosque in the capital in 2007. Musharraf had previously faced charges over the murder of former PM Benazir Bhutto at an election rally in 2007, the death of Akbar Bugti, a Baloch rebel leader in 2006, and the detention of judges in 2007. Although he was granted bail in those cases, Musharraf is still banned from leaving the country.

The general ruled the Islamic Republic with an iron fist and was considered to be one of the US' most important allies in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both al Qaeda and the Taliban have vowed to kill Musharraf. Baloch rebels have also put a bounty on his head.

Military 'cautious'

But Musharraf's supporters believe that most of the charges laid against him are baseless. They also say that PM Sharif has a personal vendetta against their leader.

"We not only forcefully reject these charges, but also view them as a vicious attempt to undermine the Pakistan military," Raza Bokhari, a Musharraf spokesman, said in a statement. "It is also a botched attempt by the government to temporarily take the focus away from existential threats faced by Pakistan."

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto displays her party's manifesto while formally beginning her election campaign on November 30, 2007 in Islamabad, (Photo: Getty Images)

Musharraf faced charges over the murder of former PM Benazir Bhutto

Defense and political analyst Ali K. Chishti told DW that Pakistani generals were upset with the developments."The military is not happy and is watching the developments very cautiously. I spoke to some serving generals and they said they found the situation extremely embarrassing for their institution. The Pakistani army does not want to see their former chief behind bars," Chishti said.

Others say that the trial is necessary to set a precedent and minimize the role of army in politics. Ahsanuddin Sheikh, one of the applicants in the treason case against Musharraf, told DW that the apex court should try and punish the former president so that "no dictator would dare to break the constitution in future."

A 'weak case'

However, veteran Pakistani rights activist Karamat Ali told DW in an interview that all those who were in government at the time when Musharraf declared the state of emergency should face a fair trial.

"Musharraf was the army chief at that time, but he represented an institution which was also involved in the whole affair. The military as an institution should be tried," Ali said. The activist also thinks that the Musharraf case is legally "weak" and cannot hold up in court. He says that Musharraf does not need to flee the country on the pretext of health issues.