(Adds Musharraf spokesman)
By Mehreen Zahra-Malik
ISLAMABAD, April 18 Former President Pervez
Musharraf fled a courtroom on Thursday after judges ordered his
arrest to answer allegations he committed treason in 2007, an
ignominious retreat for a man who once dominated Pakistan and
had hoped to revive his political fortunes.
Pakistani television broadcast footage of Musharraf dashing
from Islamabad High Court in a black SUV as several lawyers made
half-hearted attempts to pursue his vehicle - a scene that would
have been unthinkable when Musharraf was at the height of his
It was another blow to his hopes of resurrecting his
political career after election officers barred him from
standing at next month's general elections, in part due to the
various legal challenges he faces. The bid had garnered
widespread popular scorn.
Musharraf retreated to a farm in an exclusive residential
estate on the outskirts of Islamabad where police set up a
cordon restricting access to the area. It was unclear whether
the officers were preparing to detain him.
As police moved to seal off access, Mohammad Amjad,
Musharraf's spokesman, called a news conference to announce that
his lawyers would petition the Supreme Court on Friday to
withdraw the order.
"We will file an appeal against the arrest order in the
Supreme Court tomorrow," Amjad said. He added that Musharraf was
"composed and in good spirits".
The high court's order pushed Pakistan's increasingly
audacious judiciary into uncharted territory, challenging a
long-standing, unwritten rule that the top ranks of the army,
which ruled Pakistan for decades, are untouchable.
Despite Taliban death threats and a host of legal
challenges, Musharraf returned from almost four years of
self-imposed exile in London and Dubai last month in the hope of
winning a seat in the National Assembly at the May 11 polls.
But his arrival has placed him at the mercy of judges whose
memories are still raw of the showdown in 2007 when he sacked
the chief justice, placed his colleagues under house arrest, and
lawyers fought running battles with police.
On Thursday, a judge ordered his arrest in connection with
allegations he committed treason when he declared emergency rule
during his 2007 confrontation with the judges, a move his
opponents believe violated the constitution.
Judges piled more pressure on Musharraf later on Thursday
when they summoned the head of Islamabad police to explain how
he was able to flee the court without being detained.
Some commentators believe that it is unlikely Musharraf, who
seized power in a 1999 coup and resigned in 2008, will be
arrested since the military would be unlikely to tolerate such a
humiliating spectacle for a retired chief.
"I don't think the military establishment would support any
move against him," said Mehdi Hasan, a newspaper columnist.
The military made no immediate comment on the arrest order.
Although Musharraf's legal battles have provided an
electrifying sideshow in the election race, he commands scant
popular support and the outcome of the drama is unlikely to have
much impact on the final results.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the man Musharraf ousted
in a coup in 1999, is seen as the frontrunner to become prime
Pakistan's military has ruled the nation for more than half
of its 66-year history, through coups or from behind the scenes.
It sets foreign and security policy even when civilian
administrations are in power.
Pakistan's judiciary has, however, taken an increasingly
assertive stance in recent years in confrontations with both the
government and the army, and the arrest order against a former
army chief is sure to rankle some in the military.
Musharraf's decision to return has mystified many
Pakistanis, with commentators questioning whether he misjudged
the degree of popular support he might be able to muster.
Musharraf faces charges of failing to provide adequate
security for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto before she was
assassinated in late 2007.
He also faces accusations in connection with the death of a
separatist leader in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
He denies any wrongdoing.
(Additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari and Matthew Green;
Editing by Nick Macfie and Sonya Hepinstall)