ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Former Pakistani president and army chief
Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 bloodless coup and remained in office until he was forced to step down in 2008, was the first former army chief to be arrested in a country where the military holds inordinate power.
In addition to the case involving the separatist leader, he faces murder charges tied to the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and criminal charges related to the detention of judges in 2007. The court action Wednesday will allow Musharraf, who has been under house arrest at his farmhouse in Islamabad, to travel inside and outside the country while still facing charges, lawyers said.
"After some legal procedures, he'll be a free man" his lawyer Ibrahim Satti said.
Satti said Musharraf, 70, was required to post surety bonds worth about $19,500. A three-judge panel found insufficient evidence to implicate Musharraf in the 2006 killing of separatist leader Akbar Bugti in a cave during an army operation in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, Satti said, although the case is ongoing.
Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March after nearly four years of self-imposed exile in London and Dubai to run in the May 11 general elections, reportedly against the advice of army colleagues, and vowed to "save Pakistan." His hopes for a return to power were frustrated, however. He was disqualified from running over his pending court cases, received a lifetime ban on running for political office and saw his political party fare poorly in the polls.
His legal problems are seen as a test of whether democratic institutions in Pakistan can chip away at the once-sacred position of the nation's uniformed services, which have assumed power in three coups since 1947 and, even during civilian governments, exerted enormous power.
Supporters called Wednesday's court decision a victory for truth. "It proves he was wrongly accused in these politically motivated cases," said Chaudhry Asad Mehmood, a spokesman for Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League party. "He is not a coward and will not run away from his country."
The secretary-general of Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League party told a news conference the former four-star general has no immediate plans to leave the country and that even if he left, he'd return to face all charges against him.
"He will not escape from Pakistan," Mohammed Amjad told reporters in front of Musharraf's house.