Pak ex-prez Musharraf escapes after arrest order

Pervez MusharrafPakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf today fled the premises of the Islamabad High Court, surrounded and supported by his personal security, after the court ordered his immediate arrest.

Police officer Ali Asghar says policemen were deployed at the court building in Islamabad, but Musharraf's security team rushed him out and put him in a black SUV before he could be detained.

The dramatic turn of events occurred after the high court rejected Musharraf's plea for an extension of his bail in a case related to the sacking of more than 60 judges in 2007, when he declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution.

A spokeswoman for Musharraf, Saima Ali Dada, a professional fashion designer, says his legal team is trying to decide the next move.

Dismissing his application, the high court bench ordered the police to arrest Musharraf immediately. But his security team rushed him out of the courtroom without being stopped.

Musharraf's motorcade then drove out of the court complex in the presence of a battery of armed security personnel.

TV news channels reported that Musharraf drove from the court to his farmhouse at Chak Shahzad on the outskirts of Islamabad.

Musharraf's security team comprises army commandos.

A large number of Musharraf's supporters, gathered at the court complex, scuffled with lawyers, who called on police to implement the high court's order to arrest the former president.

Nonetheless, observers agree that this virtually puts paid to Musharraf's hopes of re-entering Pakistan politics through the democratic route. In fact he will probably have to flee the country to avoid arrest.

Musharraf (69) returned to Pakistan on 24 March after several years' exile hoping to participate in the 11 May general elections, which will mark the first transition of democratic rule from one government to another in the country's history.

Before he was thrown out, however, Musharraf had thoroughly emasculated the judicial system and alienated political parties; he is now facing payback time in a country over which he once exercised absolute control, commentators say.

Since Musharraf's return to Pakistan last month, he has been in and out of court several times to get his bail extended over the 2007 killing of former premier Benazir Bhutto, the death of a Baloch leader Akbar Bugti in a 2006 military operation and for imposing emergency rule in 2007.