Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has appeared before an anti-terrorism court over the murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, officials said.
Musharraf was driven to the court on Tuesday in Rawalpindi from his plush villa on the outskirts of Islamabad where he is serving a two-week arrest order for other charges dating back to his 1999-2008 rule.
Musharraf faces charges of conspiracy to murder Bhutto, who died in a gun and suicide attack in 2007, one of three cases he is fighting in the courts since returning home last month after four years in self-imposed exile.
On Monday, Pakistan’s caretaker government refused to put Musharraf on a separate trial for treason, telling the Supreme Court that it was beyond its mandate.
Security at the court was tight with journalists barred from entering. Armed police and paramilitary rangers stood alert and blocked all approaches, an AFP reporter said.
Pakistani police said on Tuesday they found 45 kg of explosives hidden in a car near the residence where former president Pervez Musharraf is under house arrest, television channels reported.
Musharraf’s arrest and disqualification from contesting elections on May 11 have been a humiliating blow for the former ruler of nuclear-armed Pakistan, previously a key ally of US president George W. Bush in the war on terror.
Despite a heavy police and paramilitary presence, scuffles broke out between lawyers and Musharraf supporters, who threw stones and beat each other with sticks outside the court building, an AFP reporter said.
“Today it was routine hearing of Benazir murder case and General Musharraf appeared for the first time in this case,” his lawyer Salman Safdar told AFP.
Musharraf spent around 15 minutes in court and then another 15 minutes with his lawyer, before being driven back to his home.
No convictions in Bhutto case
Nobody has been convicted or jailed for Bhutto’s assassination on December 27, 2007, in Rawalpindi, despite a long-running court case.
In November 2011, the court indicted two police officers and five alleged Taliban militants over her assassination.
In August 2010, it ordered the confiscation of Musharraf’s property and the freezing of his bank accounts in Pakistan over his failure, while in exile, to appear to answer questions related to her death.
Safdar told AFP that Musharraf’s team asked the court to rescind those orders, given that he was now prepared to appear in court, complained that lawyers had been barred from meeting him and ordered police to investigate.
The court adjourned until May 3.
Musharraf’s government blamed Bhutto’s killing on Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who denied any involvement and who was killed in a US drone attack in August 2009.
In 2010 a UN report said Bhutto’s death could have been prevented and accused Musharraf’s government of failing to give her adequate protection.
Bhutto’s son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is chairman of the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party, has accused Musharraf of her murder.
On Monday, Pakistan’s caretaker government refused to put Musharraf on a separate trial for treason, saying it was beyond its mandate and up to the incoming government, which will be elected on May 11.