Pervez Musharraf freed after seven months of house arrest in Pakistan

Former military ruler is released after being granted bail in case involving murder of radical cleric

The legal woes of Pervez Musharraf lessened somewhat on Thursday when Pakistan's former military ruler was finally freed from seven months of house arrest.

Musharraf, who ruled the country for nine years before being forced out in 2008, had been held in his luxury mansion in the outskirts of Islamabad since April while his lawyers battled on several fronts.

On Monday he was granted bail in a case where he is accused of being involved in the death of a radical cleric during an assault on an extremist mosque in the heart of Islamabad in 2007.

The formalities required for his release from the "sub jail", which included the payment of a bond worth $2,000, were finally completed on Thursday.

It was a rare bit of good news for a man who once wielded immense power but who has suffered multiple humiliations since returning from self-exile to Pakistan in March. Not only did few people turn out to welcome him home on his return to a country he had vowed to "save" but he was also banned from standing in the country's general election.

Musharraf's problems are far from over, however.

A ban on the former army chief travelling outside the country remains in place. There has been persistent speculation that the government or the judiciary, which are both said to be under pressure from Pakistan's powerful military, will find a way to allow the 70-year-old to slip back into comfortable exile in his homes in London and Dubai.

In recent weeks Musharraf has won bail in three other cases, including one where he is accused of being complicit in the killing of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and another where he is blamed for the death during a military operation of an important tribal leader from the restive province of Baluchistan in 2006.

It is believed Musharraf can expect to successfully defend himself against charges many lawyers regard as weak or hard to prove.

A far more significant problem is the government's promise to set up a special court to charge him for treason over his decision to suspend the constitution in 2007.

Treason is a capital offence and lawyers say Musharraf will struggle to defend himself against the charge.

The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, whose second term in office was cut short by Musharraf's military coup in 1999, told parliament in June that Musharraf had to "answer for all his deeds in court".

Despite the bad blood between the two men – and the annoyance of many generals over the way Musharraf ignored warnings not to return to Pakistan – it is expected a way will be found to avoid a treason trial.

Analysts say the army will not want to see precedents set for trials of retired generals.

The retirement in December of Pakistan's activist chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, may also help as Chaudhry led calls for the government to take action against Musharraf.

The bail decision on Thursday prompted his jailers to leave Musharraf's "farmhouse" in the upmarket area of Chak Shahzad, where he had been confined in just a couple of rooms.

Although the decision will free him to use all the house's amenities, including a swimming pool and jogging track, he is unlikely to rove far outside given the security threats against him.

The Pakistani Taliban has vowed to kill him and a car bomb was found parked outside his house in April.


Jon Boone in Islamabad

The GuardianTramp

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