Non-bailable warrant against Mush; aide says he won't appear

Non-bailable warrant against Mush; aide says he won't appear

Days after former president Pervez Musharraf was made an accused in the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto, a non-bailable arrest warrant was today issued against him to secure his presence in the court to stand trial.

Judge Rana Nisar Ahmed Khan of the Pakistani anti-terrorism court, conducting the trial of five suspects charged with involvement in Benazir's assassination, issued the warrant Musharraf.

The court made the move after Chaudhry Zulfiqar, the prosecutor for the Federal Investigation Agency, argued that Musharraf should be declared an absconder for failing to cooperate in the investigation into the assassination.

The court directed Musharaf to appear before it at the next hearing on February 19. But, Musharraf's legal advisor Muhammad Ali Saif told PTI there was "no possibility" of the former President appearing in court and said the court's decision to issue a warrant was "politically-motivated".

Prosecutors told the court that further progress in investigating Bhutto's assassination was not possible without Musharraf's presence. They said they had tried repeatedly to contact Musharraf but he had refused to cooperate.

They also said he should be declared a wanted fugitive if he did not appear for the next hearing. The judge also considered statements by former Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema and former Intelligence Bureau chief Ejaz Shah, who said they had acted on Musharraf's instructions in matters related to the assassination.

Cheema has told investigators that he was acting on Musharraf's instructions when he announced at a news conference shortly after the assassination that the Taliban were behind the killing.

The FIA had named Musharraf as an "absconder" earlier this week for failing to cooperate with investigators. Talking to reporters shortly after the court issued the warrant, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the government would provide any sort of cooperation that was requested by the court.

"We will provide whatever help the court wants. We can even contact the Interpol (regarding Musharraf)," she said.

"It is up to the court to decide what sort of intervention or support it wants," Awan added.

Musharraf's legal advisor Saif described the move as an attempt to intimidate Musharraf. "There is no possibility of him (Musharraf) appearing in court... They are trying to intimidate him. Let them find and arrest him," Saif told PTI hours after the warrant was issued by the court in Rawalpindi.

Legal experts said the court had the option of proceeding against Musharraf if he failed to appear before the judge at the next hearing. They said that Musharraf had not been named as one of the "main accused" in the chargesheet and was wanted for questioning.

Saif, a lawyer who is also the secretary general of Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League party, contended that the court's decision to issue a warrant was "politically motivated" as the former President had "no hand or role" in Bhutto's assassination in Rawalpindi in December 2007.

"The Federal Investigation Agency has been conducting a probe for three years and it suddenly decides that Musharraf was involved.

"The action was taken unilaterally and he was named an accused on simple accusations and hearsay," Saif said.

Saif contended that the anti-terrorism court had not even considered whether the 'challan' or charge-sheet submitted by the FIA met the requirements of law or was legally tenable.

The FIA's interim challan or charge-sheet levelled 12 charges against Musharraf. According to FIA officials, Musharraf had prior knowledge of Bhutto's assassination being planned by slain Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud but withheld that this information from security agencies.

On the basis of circumstantial evidence and statements, the FIA said, it appeared that Musharraf was "equally responsible with criminal mens rea (a legal term for knowledge or intention to commit a prohibited act) as his government had failed to provide the required security to Benazir Bhutto, twice elected prime minister".

The interim charge-sheet further said that former Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz and former Superintendent of Police Khurram Shahzad, recently arrested by the FIA, had acted on Musharraf's directives.

The police officers were accused of hosing down the crime scene and destroying vital evidence. A UN Commission that probed Bhutto's murder also held Musharraf responsible for failing to provide adequate security to her.

Bhutto was assassinated in a gun and bomb attack shortly after she addressed an election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.

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