ISLAMABAD — An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has ordered the country’s former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, to be made part of an ongoing investigation into assassination of Benazir Bhutto five years ago. Also on Tuesday police say they found a vehicle packed with explosives near the Musharraf residence.
Former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan last month after ending more than four years of self-imposed exile. But he has had a tough few weeks since coming back to the country where he enjoyed absolute powers for nearly a decade after taking charge in a military coup in 1999.
He currently is under house arrest near Islamabad for two weeks in connection with a court case in which Musharraf is accused of abusing the constitution and the judiciary while in power.
On Tuesday, the former coup leader was driven to neighboring Rawalpindi amid tight security where he appeared before an anti-terrorism court for the first time over the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The former Pakistani prime minister was killed in a gun and bomb attack in December 2007, shortly after she addressed an election campaign rally in the garrison city.
The anti-terrorism court, after a brief hearing, ordered authorities to make Musharraf part of the ongoing probe into Bhutto’s murder. Musharraf is accused of failing to provide adequate security to the slain politician.
The general and his attorneys dismiss all the charges as politically motivated. Defense lawyer Qamar Afzal criticized court actions against his client as “judicial maltreatment.”
“All the rights [of Pervez Musharraf] are being violated. The courts are not freely functioning," Afzal said. "The judges are being under tremendous pressure, the lawyers’ agitation and aggressiveness is actually disturbing the court proceedings. And this needs to be strongly checked.”
Witnesses say dozens of lawyers gathered outside the Rawalpindi court to protest against Musharraf’s actions while he was in power. A clash between the protesters and supporters of the former general reportedly left several people injured.
Meanwhile, a senior police official told VOA that a vehicle filled with explosives was found parked near the Musharraf residence on the outskirts of Islamabad on Tuesday. Police say they have launched an investigation and added to Musharaff's security. Taliban extremists have threatened to kill Musharraf for launching military operations in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Musharraf also faces charges of high treason for suspending the constitution, a crime punishable by death under the law. The Supreme Court is hearing that case but legal experts are skeptical about the proceedings because Pakistan’s constitution authorizes only the federal government and not private petitioners to file treason charges.
The caretaker government told the apex court on Monday it will leave the decision on filing charges to the next elected government because its mandate is only to supervise the upcoming elections. Election authorities have already barred Musharraf from participating in the May 11 polls, citing his controversial actions as a ruler of Pakistan.
Legal proceedings against Musharraf and his detention are unprecedented in the country where the powerful military has dominated political affairs for decades through direct and sometimes indirect interventions.