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Police arrest Musharraf, haul ex­-leader to court

Case threatens to reopen rift of military, judges

Commandos escorted a vehicle carrying former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf as he left the court on Thursday.

AFP/Getty Images

Commandos escorted a vehicle carrying former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf as he left the court on Thursday.

ISLAMABAD — Police arrested former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf in connection with a case involving his decision to fire senior judges while in power, authorities said Friday.

Police officer Mohammed Khalid said Musharraf was arrested overnight in his home on the outskirts of Islamabad. He fled there from court Thursday after an Islamabad High Court judge rejected his bail and ordered his arrest.

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Khalid said Musharraf was presented before a judge at Islamabad District Court on Friday. The judge will decide whether he will be taken to jail or held under house arrest.

Local TV footage showed Musharraf entering the court in Islamabad amid high security.

Musharraf’s lawyer Malik Qamar Afzal says the judge asked police to keep Musharraf in their custody.

The scene of Musharraf being held in court, unimaginable just a few years ago at the height of his power, was the latest twist in his quixotic bid to return to Pakistani politics, which has been dogged by a series of mishaps and humiliations.

It could also presage a wider clash. Never before has a retired army chief faced imprisonment in Pakistan, and analysts said the move against Musharraf could reopen a rift between the courts and the military.

After initially fleeing Thursday, Musharraf drove to his luxury villa on the outskirts of the capital, which is protected by high walls, armed guard posts, and a contingent of retired and serving soldiers, officials said.

That bolstered security setup is a reflection of repeated Taliban threats to kill the former general. But for now, the imminent danger to Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan between 1999 and 2008, stems from the courts.

At Thursday’s hearing, the High Court judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, refused to extend Musharraf’s bail in a case focusing on his controversial decision to fire and imprison the country’s top judges when he imposed emergency rule in November 2007.

Resentment toward the former army chief and president still runs deep in the judiciary, which was at the center of the protest movement that led to his ouster in 2008.

A spokesman for Musharraf’s party described the court order as ‘‘seemingly motivated by personal vendettas,’’ and hinted at the possibility of a looming clash with the military, warning that it could ‘‘result in unnecessary tension among the various pillars of state and possibly destabilize the country.’’

Musharraf’s lawyers lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court, which said it would hear the case Friday. One widely offered possibility was that the court could declare Musharraf’s villa a ‘‘sub-jail,’’ and place him under house arrest.

The court drama represents the low point of a troubled homecoming for the swaggering commando general, who had vowed to ‘‘take the country out of darkness’’ after returning from four years of self-imposed exile in Dubai, London, and the United States.

But instead of the public adulation he was apparently expecting, Musharraf has been greeted by stiff legal challenges, political hostility, and — perhaps most deflating — a widespread sense of public apathy.

Pakistan’s influential television channels have given scant coverage to Musharraf since his return, and his All Pakistan Muslim League party has struggled to find strong candidates to field in the general election scheduled for May 11. On Tuesday, the national election commission disqualified Musharraf from the election.

Meanwhile, Musharraf faces criminal charges in three cases dating to his period in office — the one related to firing judges and two others related to the deaths of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a Baloch tribal leader. Attempts by some to charge Musharraf with treason have not succeeded.

Last week he stoked controversy when, in an interview with CNN, he admitted to having authorized US drone strikes in the tribal belt — a statement that contradicted years of denials of complicity in the drone program, and which was considered politically disastrous in a country where the drones are widely despised.

In returning to Pakistan in such an apparently ill-considered manner, Musharraf has placed himself at the mercy of some of his most bitter enemies.

The favorite to win the coming election is Nawaz Sharif, the onetime prime minister whom Musharraf overthrew to seize power in 1999.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is led by his sworn enemy, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Last week another judge placed Musharraf on the Exit Control List, which means that he cannot leave the country until a court gives him permission.

Human Rights Watch said Musharraf’s flight from the court Thursday ‘‘underscores his disregard for due legal process.’’

Material from the Associated Press and the New York Times was used in this report.
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