ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail to former president Pervez Musharraf over the death of Baloch rebel leader Akbar Bugti, bringing closer the former dictator’s possible release after nearly six months of house arrest.
Musharraf has now been granted bail in three major cases against him, including one relating to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
His lawyer said the ruling meant he was a “free man”. But he is likely to remain under heavy guard at his villa on the edge of Islamabad, where he has been under house arrest since April, because of serious threats to his life.
A two-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk, heard Musharraf’s appeal against the Balochistan High Court’s rejection of his bail application in the Nawab Akbar Bugti murder case.
The bench observed that substantial evidence was not available to involve Musharraf in the criminal conspiracy regarding Bugti’s murder and granted bail to the former president.
His lawyer Ibrahim Satti said the three-member bench had granted bail in the Bugti case in return for surety bonds worth two million rupees.
Though the court had summoned Jamil Bugti, a son of Nawab Akbar Bugti, who is a complainant in the case, he remained absent from today’s hearing.
Musharraf ‘a free man’
“Pervez Musharraf is a free man now after getting bail in the Bugti case,” said Qamar Afzal, another counsel for the former president.
As well as the Bugti and Bhutto cases, Musharraf also faces cases over the suspension of judges during emergency rule, which he imposed in 2007.
The Taliban have threatened to kill the 70-year-old former general, who as president allied Pakistan with Washington in the US “war on terror” in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Security remained tight at Musharraf’s villa, an AFP reporter at the scene said, with no sign of any preparations for departure.
Musharraf’s spokesman Raza Bokhari said the general was “gratified” by the bail ruling but determined to clear his name of charges which he has always maintained were politically motivated.
“After all these formalities are finalised he would be free to travel within and outside Pakistan, but this is just the beginning. These court cases are a long-run process,” said Bokhari.
“He will continue to fight these cases until his name is clear of these false, fabricated and fictitious charges.”
‘No decision to leave Pakistan’
The secretary-general of Musharraf’s political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, said he expected “progress” on Thursday after the bonds are paid but denied Musharraf planned to leave Pakistan.
“There has been no deal with the government, nor has Musharraf taken any decision to immediately leave the country,” Muhammad Amjad told reporters.
Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March to run in the general election, vowing to “save” the country from economic collapse and militancy.
But he was barred from contesting the election, won convincingly by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – the man he ousted from power in 1999 – and was hit with a barrage of criminal cases dating back to his rule.
He has been living in part of his 1,100 square metre house, declared a “sub-jail” under the auspices of the Adiala prison in Rawalpindi, where he is guarded by some 300 police, paramilitaries and marksmen.
Reports have claimed he is enjoying a comfortable life in detention. He has even had the services of his personal cook because of his fears of being poisoned.
Since Sharif won the election there have been repeated rumours that a deal would be reached to allow Musharraf to leave Pakistan before his trials were completed.
Musharraf spokesman Bokhari insisted no such arrangement had been cooked up.
One theory was that Musharraf might be allowed to visit his sick elderly mother in Dubai on compassionate grounds, but APML spokesman Amjad rejected the idea.
“Musharraf’s mother has been quite unwell for quite some time but he has not reached any deal nor has he made any request to leave the country to see his mother,” Amjad said.
Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed in August 2006 in an explosion in a cave where he had taken refuge during a military crackdown ordered by Musharraf who was president and army chief at the time.
Bugti had led an armed campaign to press for provincial autonomy and a greater share of profits from Balochistan’s natural resources.
The death of the Baloch chieftain sparked angry protests in parts of the country.