ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s former military leader, Pervez Musharraf, was arrested and moved into police custody Friday — a move that is unprecedented in a country where the military has held sway for decades and that showed the determination of the judiciary to hold him accountable for his time in power.
A day after Musharraf fled a courtroom in dramatic circumstances to his fortified villa on the edge of the capital, Islamabad, police took him to court in the central part of the city, where a magistrate placed him under arrest. Hours later, after briefly returning home, he was taken to the city police headquarters, where he was being held pending his next court appearance on charges relating to his battle with the country’s top judges while in office.
The travails of Musharraf, 69, a former army chief, furthered the humiliation of a figure who enjoyed absolute power in Pakistan for much of his rule, from 1999 to 2008. It also raised questions about why he returned to the country in the first place.
Little has gone well for Musharraf since he returned last month from four years of self-imposed exile, spent mostly in London and Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. Shortly after his arrival, a critic flung a shoe at him in public. Since then he has been mostly confined to his Islamabad villa, protected by a sizable security contingent guarding against the possibility of an attack by the Taliban, who have threatened to kill him.
Musharraf’s fledgling political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, failed to gain traction, and on Tuesday, the national election commission disqualified him from running for Parliament in elections scheduled for May 11. Until the drama of recent days, the news media had largely ignored him. Even his former comrades in the military appear to privately view him as a liability.
‘‘Musharraf obviously overestimated his popularity,’’ Raza Rumi, a political analyst, said in an interview. ‘‘He was delusional in thinking he could ride out the storm, and he underestimated the resolve of the judges.
‘‘There are certainly people in urban Pakistan who think that things were better during his tenure,’’ Rumi added. ‘‘But the majority do not find him a credible leader. He ruled on the strength of his uniform. Now that uniform is gone, and Pakistan has changed.’’
By late Friday, Musharraf was being detained on the grounds of the Islamabad police headquarters, in a guesthouse normally used for visiting police officers. In a statement, a spokesman for Musharraf attributed his woes to ‘‘segments of overzealous judiciary, unscrupulous lawyers and fictitious petitioners’’ who were conspiring to prevent him from being elected.
The current case against Musharraf centers on his controversial decision to dismiss and place under house arrest Pakistan’s top judges in November 2007, when he declared emergency rule in a bid to shore up his crumbling authority.
Separately, he faces charges in relation to the murders of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a nationalist leader of Baluchistan province.
Some critics are even calling for him to be tried for high treason, a charge that carries a mandatory death penalty.
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments about whether treason charges can be filed, although it appears that little can happen without the acquiescence of the current caretaker government.
That interim administration, which has little political weight, has tried hard to distance itself from the case, apparently preferring that the matter be taken up by the next elected government.
Ahmer Bilal Soof, the interim law minister, said the legal developments against Musharraf were taking place ‘‘hour by hour.’’
Aides have portrayed Musharraf as relaxed, saying he had been smoking cigars at his villa since his dramatic courtroom dash on Thursday.
But that unflappable image was challenged Friday when he returned to the Islamabad court, stone-faced and surrounded by tight security.
In a statement, Musharraf criticized the charges as ‘‘politically motivated’’ and vowed to fight them in court, ‘‘where the truth will eventually prevail.’’
The US government, which had closely allied with Musharraf after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, moved to distance itself from him. In a statement, the US Embassy stressed it took ‘‘no position’’ on Musharraf or the legal proceedings against him.
Now Musharraf is partly at the mercy of his nemesis, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whom Musharraf fired in 2007, setting off street protests that led to his ouster.