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Musharraf’s luck runs out

April 19, 2013

ISLAMABAD, April 18: It was an unprecedented moment. On Thursday morning, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) directed the local police to arrest the former president, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf, who ruled the country for nearly a decade.

The order was given in the judges’ detention case; for the first time in Pakistan’s history a four star general was ordered to be arrested When the orders were passed, the former army chief escaped from the court with the help of his private security officials.

As a result the court summoned the inspector general (IG) of Islamabad police and sought an explanation over the escape of Mr Musharraf from the court.

Pandemonium in the court

It was the first time Musharraf appeared in the IHC. On April 17, he had appeared in front of a division bench of the Lahore High Court Rawalpindi registry for the hearing of Benazir Bhutto murder case. And both times he kept the court waiting.

Before long the judge rejected the application.

It was not even eleven when he announced the order. As he ordered the police present there to arrest Musharraf, they turned towards the retired general who was standing in the court. A policeman even reached forward and tried to grab his wrist.

However, Musharraf’s personal security guards pushed the policeman away and rushed the former COAS out of the courtroom.

Pandemonium broke out then because the lawyers also rushed forward in a bid to stop Musharraf but he was whisked out by his men. The Rangers officials deployed outside the courtroom escorted Musharraf to his bullet-proof vehicle which was parked right outside the courtroom.

Surprisingly, the main gate of the IHC, which remained closed for the litigants and ordinary citizens the entire day, was opened within seconds and Musharraf’s car was allowed to escape as scores of policemen stood by helplessly and lawyers shouted slogans.

Musharraf was taken to his farmhouse in Chak Shahzad where he remained holed up the entire day.

After the escape

A mini circus continued outside the famous farmhouse which had stayed vacant for so long.

Journalists of television channels were camped outside; policemen and Rangers kept guarding the house of the man they were supposed to have arrested and politicians allied with the former dictator came and went. The rest of the city was no less peaceful.

A city that had fallen asleep once the politicians left for their constituencies suddenly woke up. Everyone was keen to know what Musharraf’s fate would be and theories were exchanged about whether he would court arrest or whether the police would forcibly pick him up.

But all this excitement had no impact on the prime minister’s secretariat. Queries in this regard were ignored and all that was said on the basis of anonymity was that the caretaker government was keeping away from the issue.

Musharraf too stayed away from the hullabaloo except for a short video appearance at night. He did not directly refer to the events of the day but simply asked why he was being stopped from taking part in politics and then presented a long list of his “achievements”.

The real pressure it seemed was on the police which has to answer to the court.

On the other hand, Musharraf’s counsel Qamar Afzal told Dawn that they would challenge the orders of IHC Justice Siddiqui in the Supreme Court. He added that he had already tried to file an appeal against the said order in the Supreme Court but it was not entertained because the order was not attached with the application.

By the time he completed the requirements, the court timings for the day had ended.

The application

Musharraf on April 12 had filed a bail-before-arrest petition before the IHC in the case. Back in 2009, an FIR had been registered with the Secretariat Police Station on August 11, 2009 for confining 60 judges of the superior courts for more than five months after he imposed the emergency on November 3, 2007.

According to former advocate general Punjab Ashtar Ausaf Ali, the case was simple, though he added that it was mishandled by Musharraf’s legal team.

He explained that the FIR of the case was registered under section 344 and the lawyers did not need to approach the IHC for the pre-arrest bail.

Instead a judicial magistrate can grant bail after depositing surety bonds of a certain amount.

The exchange in the court

While dismissing the appeal, IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui observed that “confining the hon’ble judges of the superior courts and to stop them from the performance of their duties is not an ordinary act, rather it is an act of terrorism as defined by section 6(1) (b) and 6(2)(b)(c) of Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997”.

These acts of the ATA say that creating “serious risk to safety of public or a section of public, or is designed to frighten the general public and thereby prevent them from coming out and carrying on their lawful trade and daily business and disrupts civil life,” is an act of terrorism.

The court also observed that contents of FIR suggested that the offence attracted section 7 ATA 1997 for which “punishment may extend to imprisonment for life. Local police is bound under the law to insert the section which the content of FIR suggests.”

On the other hand, Musharraf’s counsel told the court that his client never issued directions for putting the judges under house arrest. Instead, Afzal claimed that it was the decision of the federal cabinet and the then prime minister had also advised to do so.

He further claimed that the barbed wire was erected outside the judges’ residences for security reasons.

According to him, the FIR was based on mala fide intentions and the complainant wanted to humiliate the former president.

Deputy Attorney General Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, who represented the federal government, argued that Musharraf was not entitled to bail because he had not joined the investigation despite the clear directions of the court.

“There was no mala fide in the registration of the FIR as the complainant was a senior lawyer who did not know Musharraf personally,” he added.

He said the sessions court had declared Musharraf a proclaimed offender and an absconder in such a case cannot claim the rights provided under the statute.

At this stage, Sardar Asmatullah, former president of Lahore High Court Bar Association, Rawalpindi, wanted to argue against the bail petition but the court did not allow him to do so. The lawyer lost his cool at the court’s refusal. Pointing his finger at Mr Musharraf, he shouted “this man put me behind the bar for 18 days”.

The order that followed

IHC Justice Siddiqui continued with the other cases of the day. Later in the detailed order made public in the afternoon, he took serious notice of Musharraf’s escape and directed the IG Islamabad to appear in person to explain “why proper police force was not deputed to handle the situation”.

The court directed the police officer to “submit report about all persons who acted in aid of the petitioner and actions taken against those police officials who remained napping, instead of performing their duty with diligence and care”.