Image: Musharraf Pervez
Emilio Morenatti  /  AP
Human rights groups insist Pervez Musharraf must face justice over the alleged disappearance of hundreds of terrorist suspects into the custody of Pakistan's shadowy intelligence services.
updated 8/20/2008 10:09:02 PM ET 2008-08-21T02:09:02

Ousted from Pakistan's presidency, Pervez Musharraf has been unwinding with friends and admirers and on the tennis court. He's building a roomy farmhouse on the edge of the capital.

But his critics may not be finished with him yet: Musharraf faces an array of possible legal complaints, including treason charges, that some speculate could force him into exile.

On Tuesday, a day after he resigned as head of state and nearly nine years after he seized power in a military coup, Musharraf played tennis and relaxed with friends and family at his army-guarded residence, a supporter said.

"He was in a good mood, very relaxed," said Tariq Azim, a former deputy minister who was among 30 supporters who gathered at the house outside the capital, Islamabad, on Wednesday. "We used to meet him there in the past, but with no official duties, he was completely different."

Musharraf quit to avoid the humiliation of impeachment at the hands of bitter rivals who had languished in jail or exile for years after his coup but who triumphed in February elections.

He announced his resignation in a defiant speech in which he defended his record and said all he had done — including his mistakes — was in good faith.

In office, the former army chief survived several assassination attempts. Islamic militants hate him for throwing Pakistan into the forefront of the U.S.-led war on terror.

Possible charges
Human rights groups insist he must face justice for abuses including the alleged disappearance of hundreds of terrorist suspects into the custody of Pakistan's shadowy intelligence services.

However, the most imminent threat to the gregarious former strongman's freedom to pursue pastimes — which also include bridge and golf — seems to come from the politicians now firmly in control of Pakistan's government.

Musharraf has acknowledged that he violated the constitution by imposing emergency rule last year in order to purge the Supreme Court. It was poised to rule on whether he could legally serve another five-year presidential term.

The judges, Musharraf argued, were conspiring to derail his plan to guide Pakistan back to democracy.

Nawaz Sharif, whose elected government was ousted in 1999 and who now leads the second-largest party in the coalition, has called for Musharraf to face trial for treason for trampling the constitution.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of death.

Few imagine that it will come to that.

Promises of immunity
An aide to Musharraf told The Associated Press that he had obtained promises of legal immunity from the ruling coalition before he agreed to resign. The aide asked for anonymity because he was not Musharraf's authorized spokesman.

However, Law Minister Farooq Naek insisted that there was "no deal" with the ex-president. Any such arrangement may depend on the jockeying for power that broke out after his retreat.

Sharif wants to restore the Supreme Court judges, who may prove useful allies if he is bent on revenge against Musharraf, who jailed him and then banished him to Saudi Arabia.

Lawyers who braved police beatings and detention to protest against Musharraf for over a year are also pressing hard for their hero judges to retake the bench.

But Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the main ruling party, has so far blocked the judges return by linking it to complex and disputed legal reforms that would limit their power.

Pakistan's citizens and the country's Western sponsors want the government to quit wrangling and tackle Islamic militancy and economic problems such as runaway inflation and chronic electricity shortages.

"It is time to put the Pervez Musharraf phenomena behind us," the Dawn newspaper wrote in its editorial on Wednesday. Musharraf, in the current climate, would not get a fair hearing, it said.

Rights campaigners say many political dissidents, especially ethnic Baluch separatists and nationalists, were swept up under the convenient banner of fighting terror alongside America.

"A failure to hold Musharraf and the army responsible will only result in those abuses continuing and hamper Pakistan's development into a full democracy," said Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch.

Two criminal complaints have already been filed against Musharraf.

Khalid Khwaja, a rights activist, on Wednesday petitioned the Islamabad High Court about last year's army assault on the city's radical Red Mosque.

Critics dispute official accounts of the battle with militants holed up in the mosque, insisting scores of innocent women and children died in the bloody siege.

The son of a Baluch rebel leader on Monday asked police to investigate Musharraf and a host of former security officials for the killing of his father. Nawaz Akbar Bugti died when his cave hide-out collapsed during a military operation in 2006.

"If this does not work, our people will follow him (Musharraf) wherever he goes, and whenever they find a chance they'll kill him or get hold of him alive" and bring him back to a Pakistani court, Talal Bugti said.

Shaiq Usmani, a former high court judge, said cases will likely founder because of the difficulty of proving Musharraf's direct responsibility.

Musharraf ordered the Red Mosque operation "for clearing the area of the terrorists. If it just so happened that somebody else was there and he was killed, he can't be held responsible for murder," Usmani said.

High treason charge
However, he said a high treason charge under Pakistan's constitution could have serious consequences for the ex-president.

Officials have suggested Musharraf will soon leave the country at least temporarily — perhaps on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia — to let the furor surrounding him die down.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Tuesday that if the ex-general were to request residence in the United States, officials would consider it.

Usmani said Musharraf would prefer to settle into a private life — though not a dull one — in his beloved Pakistan.

"He'll play a lot of golf. He's very social. He knows a lot of people. He's a member of all the clubs in Karachi," he said. "So I suppose he can have a great time, enjoy himself — provided Nawaz Sharif and the lawyers leave him alone."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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