Pakistan’s former President finally appears in court

Former Pakistan military ruler General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf finally appeared in the special court trying him for high treason on Tuesday but he was not indicted as demanded by the prosecution.

Justice Faisal Arab accepted the submission by senior defence counsel Ahmad Raza Kasuri that charges could not be read out to Gen. Musharraf till the court decided on an application regarding the jurisdiction of this court to try the case of an ex-Army officer. The arguments on jurisdiction were completed on Tuesday and the court will pass a ruling on Friday.

Justice Arab in his order said, "Once we decide on the jurisdiction then formal charges can be read out to him." He also said that further direction for Gen. Musharraf's appearance will be passed on Friday.

Special public prosecutor Akram Sheikh argued that it had taken Gen. Musharraf nearly two months to appear in court and he will concede that exemption can be granted to him after reading out the charges as mandated by the law. He also reminded the court of its order on December 24 where it was stated that as soon as the accused appears in court, the charges have to be read out to him.

Mr. Sheikh said that the question of jurisdiction comes later. Justice Arab said he was conscious of the order but in this case, the court was inclined to decide the matter of jurisdiction first and if not then an appropriate court would take over. He also pointed out that a statement of the formal charges was already given to the defence team.

There was much expectation since proceedings began at around 9.30 am that Gen. Musharraf would appear and when the judge asked the defence counsel Anwar Mansoor about his client, Mr. Mansoor said he was going to appear soon in court. However, after the break when the court asked again, Mr. Mansoor said the senior superintendent of police, Islamabad, was not willing to take over charge of the convoy from the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) in Rawalpindi where Gen. Musharraf is admitted.

He said Gen. Musharraf was sitting in his car since around 12 pm and waiting to leave. Mr. Sheikh intervened and said there were 1100 troops to guard the route and since Gen. Musharraf was not under arrest and a free man he should come. The court was then told that the issue was complicated by the AFIC commandant, who demanded a receipt for Gen. Musharraf's custody since the police are saying he was not in their custody either. Mr. Sheikh then asked the court to direct the commandant suitably.

Finally, Justice Arab directed the court registrar to speak to the AFIC commandant. Gen. Musharraf's convoy drove right up to the door of the National Library auditorium, which is the venue for the special court, and the former military ruler walked inside a little after one pm. He was surrounded by Rangers and top police officials and his defence team stood up and clapped to welcome him.

He was seated when the three judges entered and Justice Arab asked him to stand up briefly. "Since he has appeared, we can decide the question of jurisdiction," Justice Arab said. The proceedings were over in about 20 minutes and outside Gen. Musharraf spoke to a couple of journalists, who asked him how he was feeling. "Good," he replied but declined to say anything further before being driven off in his black SUV.