Pakistan court indicts Musharraf for Benazir Bhutto murder

An anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi today indicted Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on charges of conspiracy to murder late opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who died in December 2007 in a hail of bullets and bombs.

The case has been adjourned to 27 August. If convicted, General Musharraf could face a life sentence or even death.

It is the first time that any of the four generals who have ruled Pakistan have been indicted.

Musharraf pleaded not guilty when the judge in Rawalpindi city near the capital Islamabad read out the charge sheet against him.

There had been some doubt whether police would produce him in the court due to death threats by Islamist militants.

Taliban insurgents had said in recent weeks that they would send suicide bombers to kill Musharraf.

The Bhutto murder case is one of a series that Musharraf has faced since returning from self-imposed exile earlier this year, in the hope of re-entering Pakistan politics through the democratic route.

He was barred by the courts from contesting any Pakistan election, and his nascent party won only one seat in the 11 May general elections. Moreover, he was placed under house arrest almost immediately after his arrival.

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, and was forced out in 2008 by a general wave against his army rule, led by the judiciary which he had thoroughly antagonised.

"He was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation for murder," public prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar told newspersons at the anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi hearing the case.

Musharraf, 69, was bundled into and out of the court amid high security. He has been under house arrest since 19 April, in his plush villa on the outskirts of Islamabad.

Musharraf's legal team dismissed the indictment. "These charges are baseless. We are not afraid of the proceedings. We will follow legal procedures in the court," Syeda Afshan Adil, one of his lawyers, said.

Scores of security forces guarded the area around the court in Rawalpindi, the city where Bhutto was killed along with several supporters and bystanders on 27 December 2007, while on an election campaign.

The new government headed by Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf deposed in 1999, has said he should stand trial for treason for subverting the constitution and has appointed a committee to investigate him.