Musharraf arrest risks political clash in Pakistan


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ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani police arrested former military ruler Pervez Musharraf and confined him to his opulent farm house Friday in a case he has called "politically motivated," centering on his 2007 suspension of the constitution and mass firing of senior judges.

The former autocrat's arrest, after he dramatically fled from court Thursday to avoid detention, pits an increasingly assertive judiciary against a powerful military leadership that considers Mr. Musharraf one of its own, even if he is no longer well liked among the brass.

If successfully prosecuted, he would be the first former army chief to go to prison in Pakistan's 65-year history, which includes long stretches of military rule and coups such as the one Mr. Musharraf launched to gain power in 1999.

While some political analysts predicted a destabilizing battle between the courts and the army if the retired four-star general is put in the dock, others hope for a clean and quick resolution -- preferably one that avoids further humiliating Mr. Musharraf, whose return to Pakistan last month to run for prime minister has proved disastrous. A smooth exit would ease tensions in the tumultuous nation as it heads into elections May 11 that will bring an unprecedented handoff of power between elected governments.

The case also is sure to suck in other leaders in the civilian and military branches who were entwined in Mr. Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule during his futile bid to cling to power.

"It was not his sole effort," said Khalid Ranjha, a former law and human rights minister under Mr. Musharraf. "There is a skeleton in everybody's cupboard, unfortunately. ... He is being scapegoated. And many of us are hiding our own vices in his prosecution."

Although the firing and mass arrests of judges did subvert the constitution, the Parliament and a reconstituted Supreme Court at the time authorized the actions, Mr. Ranjha said. "It is bad, certainly an offense, but he is not the only one who has done it," he said.

Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the current army chief and former spy agency director, was part of Mr. Musharraf's inner circle at the time. The military has kept its distance from the fracas so far, in line with Gen. Kayani's recent declarations that the military should not play a role in politics.

Mr. Musharraf and his new political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, say he is a victim of judicial bias. "These allegations are politically motivated, and I will fight them in the trial court, where the truth will eventually prevail," he said in a Facebook posting Friday.

Officials declared Mr. Musharraf's residence on the edge of the capital a "sub-jail," meaning he is effectively under house arrest. The former president's attorneys are battling to get him bail, but even if they do, he cannot leave Pakistan, since the government has also put him on an "exit control list."

Mr. Musharraf returned to his homeland after four years in exile in London and Dubai, determined, he said, to "save" it. The army leadership quietly let him know that it considered his campaign unwise because his life would be at risk. (The military itself has avoided commenting on Mr. Musharraf.)

Now that Mr. Musharraf faces the prospect of prison -- or death, if convicted of treason -- military commanders may try to broker a deal to send him packing rather than create turmoil, some observers said. Commanders would not accept the jailing of their former colleague at arms.

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