ISLAMABAD: On Thursday when former military ruler retired General Pervez Musharraf finally decided to appear in the court, the presumable strain of his trial worries gave him ‘heart problems’. And the news of his trip to the hospital simply turned the whispers about his departure from the country into open discussion.

The former president was on his way to the courtroom because the special court constituted for his ‘high treason’ trial had on Wednesday ordered his appearance. When the three-judge court, headed by Justice Faisal Arab of the Sindh High Court, was informed about his ailment, it exempted Musharraf from the appearance for the day and adjourned the matter to Jan 6.

On Wednesday, the court had ordered the former army chief to appear on Thursday and also warned that if he did not show up it could possibly issue arrest warrants.

But the proceedings began on Thursday without Musharraf’s appearance, which was noticed by the court. Justice Arab, hence, before rising for a break at 11am ordered that he be produced within half an hour.

However, the half hour passed without resulting in the former strongman’s appearance. At this point, Deputy Inspector General (security) Jan Mohammad informed the court that Pervez Musharraf had suffered heart problems and had been diverted to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC).

The court adjourned, later noting in its order that as the accused had been hospitalised for a check-up “we decided not to issue arrest warrants”.

Commando flies the coop?

But outside the courtroom, rumour and conjecture spread through Islamabad and beyond.

Television channels led detailed discussions on the rumours about Musharraf’s departure from the country. The rumours had been there for days – having strengthened since his interviews to channels and foreign media in which the retired general insisted that the army was unhappy with his trial.

Many people were convinced that the trial would not go through and he would escape by travelling abroad. These rumours simply gained further credence on Thursday morning when one newspaper reported that the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia was arriving to discuss this issue with the government.

The government did not help quell the rumours. While its representatives kept insisting that it had not given Musharraf the permission to travel abroad (his name is still placed on the exit control list), some of them also pointed out that the former dictator was in the custody of the courts and not the government. “The ball is in the adalat’s court,” said a cabinet member in a primetime talk show.

Theatre wallahs

A day earlier Ahmed Raza Kasuri, one of Musharraf’s lawyers, had pointed out that the National Library Auditorium, which the federal government turned into the courtroom, looked less like a courtroom and more like a theatre staging a Shakespearean play.

His words appeared to come true on Thursday thanks to the lawyers’ histrionics.

The duel of words got so heated that Musharraf’s lawyers walked out in a boycott of sorts, though they later returned.

The defence lawyers were annoyed as the head of prosecution team, Akram Sheikh, suggested to the defence lawyer, Mohammad Ibrahim Satti, that the two sides stop attacking opposing counsel, warning that if it did not happen, he (Sheikh) would bring 1,000 monsters against Sharifuddin Pirzada.

When Satti took this message to Pirzada, the defence side decided to draw the judges’ attention to the incident.

Sheikh clarified that he had suggested to the two sides not to indulge in mud-slinging. “Satti has breached my trust and he is no more my friend,” announced Sheikh.

Not to be left behind, Rana Ijaz, another defence lawyer, said that Sheikh considered himself “a hero” and that he (Sheikh) had promised Nawaz Sharif to humiliate Musharraf by hurling a shoe at him when he arrived at the court.

Earlier, Advocate Anwar Mansoor Khan also complained that someone had kept knocking at his flat’s door all night, preventing him from sleeping. “Therefore, I cannot argue the case today,” he added.

Justice Arab, who seemed unhappy with the spectacle, remarked that “these things happened in schools and colleges”, advising the counsel to act wisely.

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