Pakistan's former military dictator Pervez Musharraf fled to his heavily secured luxury villa yesterday after a court ordered he be held over charges that he illegally arrested top judges in 2007.
Surrounded by bodyguards, the 69-year-old pushed past police outside the High Court in Islamabad shortly after judges refused to extend bail granted to him last month. Despite the order to arrest a man who returned from four years of self-imposed exile just weeks ago, no serious attempt was made to stop him as he marched to an armoured vehicle, which left with men in suits riding on its running boards.
Lawyers inside the courtroom said Musharraf appeared stunned by Judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui's ruling to order his arrest. "He was visibly shaken," said Saliheen Mughal, a senior lawyer. "He was sweating, and obviously he was clearly upset."
After the ruling, dozens of commandos providing Musharraf's security escorted him out of the courthouse. Within moments of him leaving the building, a police officer grabbed his arm and tried to arrest him, witnesses said. The commandos pulled Musharraf away and put him into the black vehicle, which took the former general to his compound on the outskirts of the capital.
Some media reported that the Interior Ministry was holding an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. Others speculated that Musharraf's home could be reclassified as a jail.
Musharraf's aides say he will go to the Supreme Court to appeal against Siddiqui's ruling.
Police guarded the villa's main gate as the media camped outside, and about 20 officers manned a barrier on the road approaching the compound.
"We do not accept the ruling of the court. They are just doing it to interfere with Pervez Musharraf's election campaign," said Haider Zeb Akhtar, an 18-year old political science student.
The High Court ruling provided further evidence that the one-time autocrat's decision to return to Pakistan was a major miscalculation of the extent of support for him within Pakistan. Earlier this week, a judge in Peshawar barred him from running in parliamentary elections on May 11, effectively ending his hopes of resurfacing as a major player in Pakistani politics.
The case before the Islamabad High Court involved Musharraf's decision in 2007 to detain senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, when he declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution.
Associated Press, McClatchy Tribune, Agence France-Presse, The Guardian