Pervez Musharraf makes first court appearance in treason case

Special court in Islamabad will rule on Friday whether it has jurisdiction to hear case against Pakistan's former president

Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf finally made a short and largely symbolic appearance at a high treason trial on Tuesday, almost two months after the start of hearings he has been desperate to avoid.

A huge security operation involving 1,100 police and armed personnel was laid on for Musharraf's 20-minute drive from a military hospital where he has been receiving medical attention since a heart scare on 2 January.

The former president, wearing a traditional shalwar qameez and black waistcoat, was applauded by his large team of defence lawyers as he walked into the auditorium of the National Library in Islamabad where a special court ordered by the government is hearing the case.

He arrived three hours after the start of court proceedings and spoke only to greet the judge with a salute, despite hints from his legal team that he hoped to make a rabble-rousing speech denouncing his accusers.

The judge, Faisal Arab, had been trying to coax Musharraf to voluntarily submit to appearing in court ever since the hearings began in late December. But the court made clear it would order Musharraf's arrest if he did not turn up on Tuesday.

The trial could not begin in earnest until Musharraf was physically present in court to be indicted for high treason over his suspension of the constitution in 2007 when he called a state of emergency and suspended senior judges.

Musharraf's legal team had been deliberately trying to stave off indictment, mounting a series of arguments challenging the jurisdiction of the court and accusing the judges of bias. At the same time, security scares and a mysterious chest ailment that his lawyers claim must be treated in the US have spared Musharraf from appearing.

But after finally getting Musharraf in court, the judge refused demands by the prosecutor Akram Sheikh for an immediate indictment. Instead the court will rule on Friday whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case. That means Musharraf will have to return to court, possibly next week, potentially creating another period of uncertainty about whether he will turn up.

Many legal experts believe Musharraf will struggle to defend himself and is hoping the case will become mired in controversy, forcing the government to either drop the charges or agree to some face-saving deal that will allow him to return to a life in exile abroad.

It is feared that a long-running trial of a former army chief might lower morale in the ranks at a time when a major military operation could be launched against Pakistani Taliban sanctuaries.

An attempt to open peace talks with the banned organisation is close to collapse after militants announced on Monday that they had killed 23 kidnapped military officers. Making matters worse, on Tuesday an army major was killed by militants in a shootout in the north-west of the country.


Jon Boone in Islamabad

The GuardianTramp

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