ISLAMABAD (AP) — Police arrested former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf overnight at his home in the capital, where he had holed up following a dramatic escape from court to avoid being detained, officials said Friday.
Musharraf fled Islamabad High Court in a speeding vehicle Thursday morning after a judge rejected his bail and ordered his arrest in connection with a case involving his decision to fire senior judges while in power. It was a new low in Musharraf’s troubled return from self-imposed exile last month to make a political comeback in the upcoming parliamentary election.
Police arrested Musharraf overnight and presented him before a judge at Islamabad District Court on Friday morning, said police officer Mohammed Khalid. Local TV footage showed Musharraf entering district court in Islamabad amid a heavy security detachment of police and paramilitary soldiers.
The district court judge instructed police to keep Musharraf in their custody for two days and then present him before an anti-terrorism court, said one of his lawyers, Malik Qamar Afzal.
Officials have declared Musharraf’s home on the outskirts of Islamabad a jail, which is allowed under the country’s law, and he will be held there under house arrest, said police officer Mohammed Rafique.
Musharraf’s legal team has said they will challenge the arrest order in the Supreme Court on Friday.
The decision by the police to arrest Musharraf ended an awkward situation in which the former military ruler was being protected by security forces while holed up in his house, but none of them made a move to detain him. They were likely awaiting orders from senior officials trying to figure out how to deal with a delicate situation.
Pakistan’s government has been reluctant to wade into the controversy surrounding Musharraf since he returned from self-imposed exile last month, especially given his position as a former chief of the army, considered the most powerful institution in the country.
His return also presents complications for the current army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who may have to decide whether to intervene to protect Musharraf or watch him be prosecuted. If Musharraf is sent to prison, it would be the first time an army chief has been put behind bars in the country’s 65-year history.
Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999 and spent nearly a decade in power before being forced to step down in 2008. He returned last month after four years in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai despite legal challenges and Taliban death threats.
But he has received paltry public support, and earlier this week was disqualified from running in the May 11 election because of his actions while in power. A court has also barred him from leaving the country.
The upcoming vote is historic because it will mark the first time in Pakistan that parliament has completed its full five-year term and handed over power in democratic elections. The country has experienced three military coups and constant political instability since it was founded in 1947.
Thursday’s case before the Islamabad High Court involved Musharraf’s decision to dismiss senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, when he declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution in 2007. He was concerned the judges would challenge his recent re-election as president, and cited the growing Taliban insurgency in the country as justification for the state of emergency.
The man who filed the petition before the Islamabad High Court, Aslam Ghuman, also accused Musharraf of placing the judges under house arrest.
Musharraf’s spokeswoman, Aasia Ishaq, denied he issued an arrest order, even though the judges were clearly confined to their homes. Government officials at the time claimed they restricted the movement of the judges for their own security.
Musharraf’s crackdown on the judges outraged many Pakistanis, and fueled a nationwide protest movement by lawyers that eventually resulted in him stepping down under the threat of impeachment.
Before he returned to the country, Musharraf was granted bail for the judges’ case and two others, meaning he could not be arrested when he landed — a feature of Pakistan’s legal system. But the bail agreement was temporary.
An Islamabad High Court judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who had extended the bail agreement once on April 12, refused to do so again Thursday and ordered Musharraf’s arrest, according to a copy of the court order. The judge ordered Musharraf to be investigated under an anti-terrorism law, which does not allow bail, the order said.
Siddiqui wrote that Musharraf’s ‘‘shameful’’ decision to arrest judges ‘‘spread fear in society ... and terror throughout Pakistan.’’
Immediately following the judge’s arrest order, Musharraf’s bodyguards hustled him out of the court past policemen and paramilitary soldiers and helped him into a black SUV. The vehicle sped off with a member of Musharraf’s security team hanging on the side of the vehicle.
The security forces on duty at the court seemed caught off-guard and nobody appeared to try to prevent Musharraf from leaving as he pushed past them.
Lawyers taunted the 69-year-old as he roared away, yelling, ‘‘Look who is running! Musharraf is running!’’
The judge ordered the Islamabad police chief to appear before the court on Friday to explain why Musharraf was not arrested and to ensure action is taken against policemen ‘‘who remained napping’’ instead of performing their duties.
Musharraf’s spokeswoman, Ishaq, said the judge was ‘‘biased,’’ claiming he participated in the protests against Musharraf when he was in power. Musharraf’s legal team will file an appeal with the Supreme Court on Friday, said Ishaq.
Musharraf is facing a raft of other legal challenges, including allegations before the Supreme Court that he committed treason while in power. He also faces legal charges in two other cases. One involves allegations that Musharraf didn’t provide adequate security to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a gun and suicide attack in 2007. The other relates to the death of a nationalist leader in Baluchistan in 2006.
Given the legal challenges and Taliban threats against Musharraf, many experts have been left scratching their heads as to why he returned. Some have speculated he misjudged the level of public backing he would get, while others suggested he was simply homesick.
Musharraf released a video message online late Thursday saying he had done great things for the country and asking, ‘‘Why am I being stopped from taking part in politics?’’
Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana and Asif Shahzad contributed to this report.