Pakistan’s government was Thursday ordered to lift a travel ban on former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in a court decision that could draw a line under a raft of legal troubles.
Musharraf has been battling several court cases — including treason charges for imposing emergency rule in 2007 — since he returned to Pakistan last year to contest elections, stoking tensions between civilian authorities and the powerful military.
His exit from Pakistan could help ease those tensions at a time when the country is fighting a resurgent Taliban following a brazen attack on Karachi’s airport this week that left dozens dead.
Presiding judge Muhammad Ali Mazhar of the Sindh High Court in Karachi said the ban “placing the name of retired General Pervez Musharraf on the Exit Control List is struck down.”
“The operation of the judgement is suspended for 15 days so that the respondent (the government) may file appeal before the Supreme Court.”
Musharraf has said he wants the travel ban lifted so he can visit his sick mother in Dubai, but many in Pakistan see it as a ruse to flee the country and avoid the litany of criminal cases dating back to his 1999-2008 rule.
But his lawyer Farogh Naseem said: “Musharraf does not want to live like a convicted man. If he is allowed to leave Pakistan, he will come back whenever he is needed.”
The 70-year-old former commando has been staying with his daughter in Karachi since April, where he travelled for tests at a navy-run hospital.
He has been undergoing medical treatment since January, when he was rushed to hospital after suffering heart problems on his way to court for a hearing.
After his indictment for treason in March, Musharraf asked to be allowed to visit his mother, who is in her 90s, but was denied permission.
The former ruler came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999, deposing then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who won re-election in 2013 when Pakistan underwent the first civilian handover of power since its independence from Britain in 1947.
Facing impeachment following the 2008 elections, Musharraf resigned as president and went into self-imposed exile in Dubai. He returned to Pakistan in March last year on an ill-fated mission to run in the elections but was barred from participating.
He is also on bail in three other cases linked to his time in power including the 2007 assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, and the murder of Baluch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006.
– Growing unity? –
The legal development comes as pressure mounts on Pakistan to strike the Taliban’s headquarters in the North Waziristan tribal district following the all-night siege of Karachi airport on Monday that left 38 dead including 10 attackers.
The assault was followed on Wednesday by the first US drone strikes on Pakistan this year.
The two strikes killed at least 16 militants and raised suspicion of coordination between the two countries after the programme was reportedly suspended to give Islamabad space to pursue a peace process.
Sharif’s government in February began pursuing dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban aimed at ending a seven-year insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives. However a ceasefire struck March broke down a month later.
The army was widely seen as being opposed to the dialogue because of the heavy casualties it has sustained at the hands of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), which views them as a mercenary force serving foreign interests.
But following the suspension of talks and the Karachi attack, observers believe both civil and military authorities are converging on the need for more concerted action.