ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf remained secluded in a military hospital for a fifth day Monday while a special tribunal, formed to hear a treason case against the retired army general, excused him from appearing in court for the third time in a week.
The court demanded to see the medical records for Musharraf, 70, who was rushed to the hospital Thursday under heavy military and police guard after he reportedly complained of chest pains. Many observers here have voiced skepticism that the former general, who appeared robust and defiant during recent news media interviews, had fallen ill en route to court.
Musharraf’s family is seeking permission for him to leave the country for medical treatment. The request is widely viewed in Pakistan as a move by the army to save Musharraf and possibly other former military officials from the humiliation of being tried in a civilian court.
“This is about bravado, hubris and impunity touted as professional honor and esprit de corps,” Babar Sattar, a lawyer and columnist, wrote in the newspaper Dawn. “The safe exit option is not meant to guard against a general being punished, but to preempt the ghastly precedent and ignominy of a general being tried in civilian court.”
The army, Pakistan’s most powerful institution, has maintained official silence on the prosecution of a former chief, who seized power in 1999 and ruled until 2008. But its leaders were said to be deeply disturbed by the case, as well as angry at Musharraf for returning from exile in the spring against their strong advice.
Some commentators noted that the military’s apparent takeover of Musharraf’s movements and whereabouts — army personnel bypassed numerous hospitals that were closer to take him to a heavily guarded military hospital, where even his attorneys have been unable to see him — has made him seem as much a prisoner as a patient.
The almost complete lack of public information about Musharraf’s medical condition since Thursday has added to speculation that his reported illness is part of a plan orchestrated by the military to send him abroad, rather than allowing his trial to raise the specter of the 1999 coup, in which former military and civilian officials were complicit.
There have been hints that U.S. officials would support such a move as a face-saving way to prevent a high-risk confrontation between the army and the six-month-old government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. One Pakistani newspaper quoted a U.S. diplomat Sunday as calling Musharraf’s reputed health problem “a unique opportunity to let him go. . . . It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
Talat Masood, a retired army general and analyst, said that although an aborted trial would constitute a setback for civilian authority, there was a “convergence” of interests in seeing Musharraf quietly removed from the scene so the fragile equilibrium between military and civilian power is not rocked. “The sooner he goes away, the better for everyone,” Masood said.
Musharraf has publicly accused Sharif’s civilian government of waging a vendetta against him. Sharif was prime minister when Musharraf took power in 1999 and was sent to prison, and then into exile.
The government prosecutor, appearing in court here Monday, asked the panel of judges to issue an arrest warrant for Musharraf, saying he had repeatedly avoided court hearings. The court ruled that no arrest was necessary as long as Musharraf remained hospitalized. But it demanded that his hospital records be produced by Tuesday.
Justice Faisal Arab, who leads the panel, asked Musharraf’s attorneys to state definitively whether their client, accused of suspending the constitution in 2007, intends to appear and face indictment at all. They replied only that he was under intensive care and would not be coming to court immediately.
“There are many good hospitals in the country, but Musharraf has taken refuge in a military hospital,” complained the lead prosecutor, Akram Shaikh. “Musharraf is trying to drag the military into this case. This case is underway, and a trial cannot be stopped because of flu, cold or someone being hospitalized.”
Speaking later outside the court, Shaikh said Musharraf was trying to undermine the army as a “respected institution.” He said that the evidence was ready and that the trial would not take longer than a week.