A Pakistani Court, hearing high treason case against former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf on Friday, March 14, issued his non-bailable warrant for March 31st after he failed to appear before it. Musharraf could face possible indictment for violating the country’s constitution on November 3rd 2007 by proclaiming emergency. If convicted, Musharraf could face death sentence or life imprisonment under the country’s constitution.
A three-member bench of a special court headed by Justice Faisal Arab and comprising Justice Tahira Safdar and Justice Yawar Ali issued the warrants for his production on March 31st. The court ruled that the accused would be arrested if he failed to show up on March 31st.
“In view of the law governing the matter, the presence of the accused is required for proceeding with the case, as it is trite that a criminal case cannot be kept dormant where an accused is available to stand trial”, said the court order.
The court ordered that the warrants for production of the accused be executed by the police chief of Islamabad capital territory, or any other officer designated by him. The court directed that warrants would be executed early in the morning of March 31st, if the accused refuses to appear before it.
Earlier, on March 11, the former president, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, escaped indictment after interior ministry issued a security alert of a possible attack on his life. At March 14 hearing, Musharraf’s counsel argued that the accused would not appear before the court because of security concerns. The interior ministry issued a security alert on March 10, warning that Musharraf could be targeted by terrorists during his journey to and from the court.
Soon after the court verdict, Faisal Chaudhry, a member of Musharraf’s legal team, told media that the instant order would be challenged in the superior court soon. Ahmed Raza Kasuri, another lawyer for Musharaf, said the case had thrown the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif into a tough spot.
“It’s a clear signal for wise people that on this case the army and civil government are not on one page and those who are ignorant are living in a fools world”, Kasuri said.
The court recalled that on March 11, it had directed the accused to appear in person before it. It ruled that the only reason for non-appearance of the accused, as per his counsel, was his security concerns. It directed the interior ministry to ensure all necessary measures for the safe journey of the accused to and back from the court. It adjourned the hearing till March 20th.
Earlier, when the special court resumed hearing, Musharraf’s consul Anwar Mansoor Khan submitted a petition seeking his client’s exemption from the hearing. He contended that the interior ministry in its alert on March 10, 2014, had clearly stated that there was a threat to the life of the accused from the security personnel who would be accompanying him in his cavalcade to the court. Therefore, it is necessary that before the accused appears in the court there should be proper screening of the security personnel. He further submitted that the process of screening takes about six weeks and till such time his appearance before the court be dispensed with.
Prosecutor Muhammad Akram Sheikh, however, opposed the request by asserting that necessary deployment of security personnel has already been made after proper screening for the safe journey of the accused. “This is nothing but to obstruct the process of this court,” Akram Sheikh said, adding that Rs. 200 million (about two million dollars) has been spent on Musharraf’s security till now.
The threat alert 239, issued by Director Security, National Crisis Management Cell at the interior ministry, made public on social media, reads as: “It has reliably learnt that miscreants affiliated with TTP/Al QAEDA have made plan to target General Pervez Musharraf in the near future. According to available information, the reconnaissance of all possible routes from AFIC (Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology) to Special Court at national library, Islamabad has already been completed by the miscreants and hardcore fighters have been placed on the routes likely to be followed by escort team of General Pervez Musharraf”, says the letter.
“It seems that the terrorist have sympathizers in the security/cavalcade of General Pervez Musharraf in order to assassinate him. The plan may materialize either en route using IEDs/VBIED or inside /outside the courts similar to the incident of Salman Taseer, former Punjab Governor, on the same lines.
Forward for extreme vigilance and foolproof security and special measures may be taken to avoid any untoward incident,” the letter concluded.
Later, after Pakistani news channels repeatedly splashed the stories about the letter, an interior ministry spokesman clarified that it has not issued its own threat alert regarding Musharraf security. It’s alert was based on the information received from the agencies.
A day earlier, on Thursday March 13, officials from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and interior ministry gave an in-camera briefing to the judges about Musharraf’s security. A Lieutenant Colonel of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) told the court that 27 security alerts had been issued since the former president had returned to Pakistan. He said the most recent, the 28th, alert was issued after a telephone call was intercepted which revealed that an attack on Musharraf was being planned.
“In the wake of the threat alert, it is being assumed that apparently the government is unable to cope with the situation. There are some elements within the intelligence agencies who might have soft corner for the former military dictator and they don’t want that he should be tried in the case”, Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry, a senior lawyer and member of the prosecution team, told a Pakistani television show. He, however, said threat alerts are issued when the law enforcement agencies receive any information.
The former military strongman has been staying at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) in Rawalpindi for medical treatment. The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had filed a complaint with the special court, constituted for initiating high treason trail of the former strongman under Article 6 of Pakistan’s constitution.
Musharraf has accused Sharif, whom he ousted in a 1999 coup, of carrying out a “vendetta”. He has asked for government permission to go abroad for medical treatment, which has been denied. Nawaz Sharif came to power after elections in May 2013 in the first transfer of power from one elected government to another after a full term in Pakistan’s history.
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist.
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