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Musharraf not to appear in court despite warrant

Islamabad: Pervez Musharraf will not appear in court despite the arrest warrant issuedon Saturday by an anti-terrorism court in connection with the Benazir Bhutto assassination case, a close aide of the former military ruler said today terming the move as an attempt to intimidate him.

"There is no possibility of him (Musharraf) appearing in court," Muhammad Ali Saif, the legal advisor for the former President, told PTI hours after the warrant was issued by the court in Rawalpindi.

"They are trying to intimidate him. Let them find and arrest him," Saif said.

The court conducting the trial of suspects charged with abetting or facilitating the 2007 assassination of the former premier issued the warrant after prosecutors told the judge that Musharraf had failed to cooperate with investigators.

Musharraf was also directed to appear in the court at the next hearing on February 19.

Legal experts said the court had the option of proceeding against Musharraf if he failed to appear before the judge at the next hearing.

They said that Musharraf had not been named as one of the "main accused" in the chargesheet and was wanted for questioning.

"The court can conduct proceedings against Musharraf in absentia and it can also issue orders against him if there is any evidence connecting him to the crime.

"If he chooses not to appear in court, he will do so at his own risk," said Mirza Aziz Akbar Baig, a former vice-chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council.

If any order is passed against Musharraf by the court, the government can resort to steps like seeking his extradition, said Baig.

Saif, a lawyer who is also the secretary general of Musharraf`s All Pakistan Muslim League party, contended that the court`s decision to issue a warrant was "politically motivated" as the former President had "no hand or role" in Bhutto`s assassination in Rawalpindi in December 2007.

"The Federal Investigation Agency has been conducting a probe for three years and it suddenly decides that Musharraf was involved.

"Even if it has decided to name him as an accused, it should have completed certain formalities like recording his statement," he said.

"The action was taken unilaterally and he was named an accused on simple accusations and hearsay," Saif said.

Saif contended that the anti-terrorism court had not even considered whether the `challan` or charge-sheet submitted by the FIA met the requirements of law or was legally tenable.

"An unbiased and non-prejudiced court would have seen the weaknesses present in the challan," Saif said.

Officials have said that a questionnaire regarding Bhutto`s assassination was sent to Musharraf, currently living in self-exile in Britain.

But, Saif said no such questionnaire was received by Musharraf and that no effort was made by investigators to contact him.

"He (Musharraf) is not hiding, everyone knows where he is. If the authorities contact us, we will cooperate in the probe," Saif said.

Investigators have accused Musharraf of failing to provide adequate security to Bhutto after she returned to Pakistan from self-exile in October 2007.

They have also said that two top police officers arrested for negligence in providing security to Bhutto were acting on Musharraf`s orders. The former military ruler`s aides have denied the charges.

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