ISLAMABAD — After twice defying summonses to appear before a special court formed to hear treason charges against him, former Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf apparently suffered heart problems Thursday while en route to the court, forcing the case to be adjourned until Monday.
Musharraf, who’s 70, wasn’t known previously to have had health problems, and many people greeted the report of his illness with skepticism. Some noted that his motorcade didn’t go to Islamabad’s modern state hospital, the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, about four miles from where he was when he complained of chest pains. Instead, he was taken to the military-controlled Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in the neighboring city of Rawalpindi, a journey that would have taken three times longer to complete.
Political aides to Musharraf said he was bedridden in the intensive care unit and that army physicians had diagnosed him with an irregular heartbeat. They said an angiogram had been ordered to check for any damage to his heart.
Some of Musharraf’s many detractors said the hospital trip may have been a ruse to save the former military strongman from trial on charges that could carry the death sentence. Once admitted to the military hospital, Musharraf was in friendly territory for the first time since he was detained in April shortly after returning from nearly five years in exile. In the military-controlled “cantonment” area of Rawalpindi, the military police have the final word on active-duty and retired soldiers.
Musharraf is being tried for imposing a state of emergency in November 2007, during which he suspended the constitution so that he could sack rebellious judges who’d sought to block a decree he’d issued that would have granted him amnesty for crimes committed during his rule as part of a transition to democracy. The government elected not to charge him in other cases, including the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Bhutto’s son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the chief of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the country’s largest opposition political party, was among the many who were skeptical about Musharraf’s sudden ailment.
“I can’t believe this coward ever wore the uniform of our brave and courageous armed forces,” he tweeted.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif instructed the defense minister, Khawaja Asif, to find out the facts of Musharraf’s health.
Musharraf had failed to appear in court on Dec. 24 and on Wednesday after crude, unarmed explosive devices were found along the road he would have had to travel to reach the national library building, where the court is to meet. The discovery of the devices also was greeted with skepticism, with many noting that they’d been planted amid unprecedented security that includes some 200 armed policemen. All local roads that lead to the farmhouse where Musharraf has been detained are regularly combed for security threats.
The devices, which Islamabad police bomb-disposal specialists described as homemade, didn’t appear to be the work of the Pakistani Taliban, who are known for their sophistication in explosives, particularly roadside bombs.
The military remains the ultimate arbiter of political power in Pakistan, which last year saw a democratically elected administration complete a scheduled five-year term in office for the first time, and an unprecedented transfer of power after May elections overseen by a neutral caretaker administration.
The court was expected to receive a report on Musharraf’s health Monday.
Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent.