Court paves way for return of Musharraf to Pakistan

The Sindh High Court in Pakistan has granted anticipatory bail to former president Pervez Musharraf, paving the way for his return to Pakistan from self-imposed exile.

Gen Musharraf, the former military dictator, had signalled his intention to return to take part in the 11 May general elections. He is expected to arrive in the southern city of Karachi on Sunday.

The bail order ensures that he will not face immediate arrest upon his return. There are several arrest warrants out for Gen Musharraf, now 70.

The former military leader has been living in London and Dubai ever since stepping down five years ago. He has vowed to return several times in the past only to abandon them.

He is accused of failing to provide adequate security for former PM Benazir Bhutto ahead of her assassination in 2007. He is also wanted in connection with the murder of a Baloch tribal leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti and for sacking the entire higher judiciary in November 2007.

Cases have also been registered for ordering a military raid on the Taliban-linked Red Mosque in Islamabad.

Judge Sajjad Ali Shah posted bail at Rs300,000 in the three cases.

The order means that he cannot be arrested for 10 days in connection with the judges' arrests and for 14 days in connection with the other two cases.

Friday's protective bail order removes a key obstacle to his return as previous plans had been aborted because he faced arrest upon his return.

The former president has described the cases against him as "baseless" and politically motivated.

Gen Musharraf led a military government, which ruled Pakistan from 1999 after a coup that ousted former civilian president Nawaz Sharif.

His supporters were defeated in parliamentary elections in February 2008, and Gen Musharraf resigned in August that year under threat of impeachment.

Musharraf had approached Sindh High Court in the port city of Karachi and today the judge granted him protective bail in pending cases against him, his defence lawyer, Ahmad Raza Kasuri told reporters.

The court directed the former president to submit bail money amounting to Rs(Pak) 100,000 in each case.

The 14-day-long protective bail was granted in response to a constitutional petition submitted in the court by Musharraf's daughter Ayla Raza Musharraf on behalf of her father.

The petition argued that Musharraf planned to return to the country to take part in the elections but apprehended arrest for his alleged involvement in different cases.

Musharraf has launched his own political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), in exile and now says he will lead election campaign for his party.

He said, earlier this month, that his party will field candidates on almost all seats in upcoming general elections.

"My return is in the interest of Pakistan. The country's future is at stake and there is a need of a positive change in the country," Musharraf had told a news conference in Dubai this month.