ISLAMABAD (AP) — A judge granted bail to Pakistan's former military ruler on Monday in a case related to the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, his lawyer said.
Despite the bail, retired Gen. Pervez Musharraf will remain under house arrest on the outskirts of the capital, Islamabad, in connection with two other cases against him, including one related to his decision to sack senior judges while in power.
The bail comes days after the lawyer who filed the judges case against Musharraf, Mohammad Aslam Ghumman, said he had decided not to testify against the former military strongman for the sake of "national interest."
Ghumman's decision has fueled speculation that Musharraf may be allowed to leave the country before the new government led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif takes power in early June. The bail in the Bhutto case could intensify that speculation.
Musharraf seized power by toppling Sharif in a military coup in 1999 and ruled for almost decade until he was forced to step down in 2008 because of growing discontent with his rule. He spent years in self-imposed exile and returned in March to compete in the May 11 national election.
But he was disqualified from the election because of his actions while in power, and has faced a raft of legal challenges against him since he arrived. He was placed under house arrest in April, and his name has also been placed on the exit control list, preventing him from leaving the country.
Despite these steps, there is widespread speculation that Musharraf may be allowed to leave the country before Sharif takes over, possibly under the pretense of visiting his ailing mother in Dubai.
Even though Sharif has a bone to pick with Musharraf for toppling him in a coup, many diplomats and officials doubt he would want to begin his third stint as prime minister with such a prickly issue, especially since it could spark conflict with the army. Musharraf was serving as army chief when he seized power.
But it's unclear how Musharraf would be allowed to leave legally given the cases against him. There is significant anger against him in the legal community because of his decision to fire senior judges, including the chief justice, while in power.
A judge set Musharraf's bail in the Bhutto murder case at about $20,000 on Monday, said one of his lawyers, Salman Safdar. Musharraf had arranged pre-arrest bail in the case before he returned to Pakistan, but it was canceled in April when his lawyer failed to show up to argue for an extension.
Government prosecutors have accused Musharraf of being involved in the gun and suicide attack that killed Bhutto in 2007 when he was in power. They have also blamed him for not providing the former premier with enough security.
Musharraf has denied the allegations and claimed they were politically motivated. He has blamed the Pakistani Taliban for the attack.
Ghumman, the lawyer who filed the judges case against Musharraf, said Saturday that he decided not to testify after hearing Sharif say in his victory speech that he forgave all those who acted against him in the past. Ghumman denied reports that he was forced to make his decision following threats by the army.
Even though Ghumman will not testify, it is up to the court to decide whether to continue with the case, he said.
Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party won a resounding victory in the May 11 election and looks set to have a majority in the national assembly once independent candidates join the party.
The vote was marred by allegations of vote rigging by various politicians, including former cricket star Imran Khan. In response, the election commission decided to repeat the vote or do a recount for eight of the 272 directly-elected national assembly seats.
A candidate from Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Arif Alvi, won a national assembly seat from a repeat election held in the southern city of Karachi on Sunday, said the judge presiding over the vote, Shahid Shafique. Alvi won over 77,000 votes, more than twice as many as the candidate from the Muttahida Quami Movement who came in second.
The vote in Karachi followed the shooting death of a senior female member of Khan's party on Saturday night. Khan blamed Muttahida Quami Movement for the killing, but the party denied the allegations.
Also Monday, gunmen killed a policeman who was guarding a polio vaccination team in Pakistan's northwest Bajur tribal area, said local government administrator Faramosh Khan.
No one has claimed responsibility for the shooting, but suspicion will likely fall on Islamic militants suspected in similar attacks. Militants have accused the polio workers of being U.S. spies and claimed the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile.
Associated Press writers Atif Raza in Karachi, Pakistan, Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.