KARACHI: Hours after the government announced that it was allowing retired Gen Pervez Musharraf to proceed abroad for ‘medical treatment,’ the former president left for Dubai by a pre-dawn flight of a foreign airline on Friday, three years after his return to the country with the promise of an active political role as chief of the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML).

The flight of Emirates Airline took off minutes after 4am from Jinnah International Airport.

The former ruler was accompanied by a close friend, Tariq Mahmood, with no family member on board.

A brief confirmation of Mr Musharraf’s departure came from the APML spokesperson who said the schedule of his “treatment and other activities” would be decided in Dubai by the party’s leaders and the retired army chief himself.

“I am an armyman and I love my homeland,” Gen Musharraf told DawnNews before his departure and said: “I have a decade-old problem of backbone for which I need a treatment. I will come back in a few weeks or months.”

The federal government — in a move which surprised many — announced on Thursday its decision to allow the former president to proceed abroad. Announcing the decision taken after lengthy top-level political deliberations, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan insisted that it was in line with court verdicts. He said the government had moved the Supreme Court against a Sindh High Court decision of allowing Mr Musharraf to go abroad.

Apart from murder cases of Benazir Bhutto, Nawab Akbar Bugti and Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, the retired general is facing treason charges for imposing emergency rule in November 2007, arresting judges and limiting their powers. His name was kept on the Exit Control List for more than 20 months.

Before his departure, Mr Musharraf’s travel from his residence in General’s Colony near Zamzama to the airport remained a mystery for many. The news channels’ efforts to cover every moment of the over 16km drive went in vain when they came to know about his presence in the flight while they were covering a ‘decoy convoy’ of security vehicles which left his residence at 3.43am, pretending to escort the former president to the airport.

“He was onboard by 3.30am,” Afzal Nadim Dogar, a senior journalist who was in the flight carrying Mr Musharraf to Dubai, told Dawn. “He was in a special cabin of the aircraft with majority of the passengers unaware about his presence. We had a very brief meeting with him which lasted a few seconds and we were denied direct interaction with him by his friend and airline staff.”

When asked about his appearance, health and physical condition, Mr Dogar said he did not find any sign of “discomfort” and later his engagements in Dubai strengthened the impression.

“He got on the plane through normal stairs, then spent around two hours while sitting onboard and after arrival in Dubai met several people at his residence, including friends and party members. The APML’s local leaders told me that he had held a three-hour meeting with various people on the first day after his arrival and no meeting with any doctor is scheduled so far for the retired general.”

AFP adds: A spokesman said Mr Musharraf would stay at his residence in Dubai for some weeks before seeking an appointment with doctors in the United States.

“Six to eight weeks are required for the treatment and then he would go back home,” APML spokesman Dr Amjad Malik said in Dubai.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2016