After all the real and perceived threats to the life of the former military ruler, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf escaped a court appearance due to a reported heart attack on Thursday morning.
Upon being told that the 70-year-old has been shifted to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) in Rawalpindi, the three-member bench of the special court constituted to try the former president extended the exemption without issuing an arrest order for the accused, and set January 6 as the next date for the indictment hearing.
Below is a timeline of how the events of the third hearing in this unprecedented treason trial unfolded:
Camera crews from various television channels took their positions outside the National Library, the premises of the special court, with all eyes focused on the ‘entrance door’ expected to be taken by Musharraf. Numerous security contingents were deployed, along with containers and scanners, inside and outside the court.
Journalists and lawyers started to trickle into court. The registrar is one of the first people to enter, followed by the defence and prosecution teams.
The hearing on day three of the treason trial commences. One person with Musharraf’s counsel started to recite verses from the Quran.
The court at the outset is informed that Musharraf will be late to proceedings due to security concerns. One judge says that if he does not appear today, his arrest order will be issued. The head of Musharraf’s legal team Sharifuddin Pirzada remarks that the court’s observation is “threatening”. The judge maintains the observation.
The defence team immediately starts to complain to the bench about threats they received. Lawyer Anwar Mansoor says he was unable to sleep the night before the hearing. “I was under total threat. From 1:00am to 5:00am, someone was banging on my door and ringing the bell,” he said.
Lawyer Ibrahim Satti quotes Akram Sheikh as saying that his ‘target’ is Sharifuddin Pirzada. Akram Sheikh denies the insinuation, clarifying that he spoke to Satti as a friend and that the friendship “is now over”.
When one judge asks who is behind the threats, Mansoor says, “This very government.” The court promises to investigate the matter but the lawyer walks out of the court, followed by other members of Musharraf’s legal team. “This never happened in my 40 years of practice. I will walk out,” Mansoor says before leaving the room.
One Rana Ijaz, a former provincial minister in Punjab, tells the bench that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met prosecutor Akram Sheikh the night before the hearing and informed the premier that a member of the prosecution will throw a shoe at Musharraf when he appears in court.
While Akram Sheikh denies any such meeting, the court pleads with the lawyers to “stop fighting like schoolchildren”.
Pirzada, the only member of the defense team remaining in court, tells the bench that he will call his colleagues back into the court.
The court takes a 15-minute recess after the boycott.
Mansoor returns to court and says his client cannot appear in this environment and requests that the bench adjourn the hearing.
The bench says that the hearing is adjourned till Monday, but that Musharraf must make an appearance in court today in the second half.
The defence team is told by the court not to threaten the bench. Justice Faisal Arab tells the assistant commissioner of the Islamabad Administration to instal CCTV cameras inside and outside the court to record the behaviour of the lawyers.
Court goes into a 30-minute recess and the bench tells the defence team that the accused should be present.
The hearing resumes after a break, and security at the entrance of the special court is as strict as ever. Journalists who are five minutes late are initially not allowed in, but are let through after some pleading.
Musharraf is on his way from his Chak Shehzad farmhouse to the special court when he reportedly experiences chest pain. His security team takes him to the AFIC, Rawalpindi. Security is beefed up in the Saddar area.
The defence and prosecution teams begin to bicker before the mild-mannered judges, and the heated exchange reaches a crescendo. The bench calls for discipline but the lawyers continue to speak in harsh, loud tones about the merits of the case.
Musharraf is admitted to the hospital amid tight security.
At one point, a security official moves from his spot to whisper something into the ear of the court registrar. All eyes shift to the entrance door.
A few members of Musharraf’s team leave their seats to go outside the court, in apparent move to receive him.
The bench asks the police present in the courtroom whether or not Musharraf will appear in court. DIG Security Jan Muhammad informs the court that the former military ruler was on his way to court when he had a heart attack, and has been shifted to a military hospital.
There is pin-drop silence in the court room, and no one speaks for about ten seconds.
Prosecutor Akram Shaikh stands up from his seat and tells the court that his team has its sympathies with the accused, but that the court should regulate his custody as per the prescribed law.
“Do remember you did not issue a simple ‘notice’ to Musharraf as a ‘defendant’,” he reminds the court, reading out the special court’s previous written orders. He says Musharraf has been summoned as an accused, and cannot be spared from custody. He also says the court has already observed that police can arrest him without issuing a warrant since this is a non-bailable offence.
This provokes Musharraf’s legal team again but Shaikh does not stop and tells the court to fulfill its lawful duties without any fear and fever. He also complains that the court is more inclined towards Musharraf’s legal team.
The bench announces that it will take a three-hour break and announce the ruling regarding Musharraf’s arrest at about 4:00pm.
According to a PIA official, Sehba Musharraf departed from Islamabad to Dubai on flight PK-211 scheduled to take off at 12:10pm. The flight was 19 minutes late. The PNR number HOQVSQ reveals that the ticket was booked on December 28.
The PIA website, however, does not show PK-211 on the flight schedule for January 2. When asked about the discrepancy, the official says it is a “glitch”.
Musharraf’s lawyers talk the media outside the court. Ahmed Raza Kasuri says, “The former president was ready to appear before the court today but could not come as he suddenly fell sick.”
When journalists express suspicion over this sudden illness, Kasuri states that the media should talk to the doctors to know what happened to the ex-army man.
A few dozen Musharraf supporters gather outside the military hospital with bouquets and banners. “Musharraf zindabad” slogans are chanted, and APML supporters try to get inside the hospital but are unsuccessful.
“It was former president Pervez Musharraf who gave us prosperity, liberty to the media, started an operation against the militants and brought many reforms,” said Ijaz Ahmed, one APML supporter.
The registrar of the court announces the special court’s written judgement before the media, which states that the court has decided not to issue an arrest warrant for Musharraf and that the next hearing will be on January 6.
Officials at the hospital quoting doctors tell The Express Tribune that Musharraf’s condition is stable.
Nearly 70 Pakistan Army troops, equipped with the latest weapons, are deployed inside the hospital building and even on the rooftops to avoid any untoward incident.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2014.