Pakistan seeking Musharraf's arrest over Bhutto assassination

Dubai-based ex-president accused of not providing security for former PM Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007.

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DUBAI// Interpol will "assess" Pakistan's appeal to arrest the country's former president, Pervez Musharraf, once a formal request is made, the police organisation said yesterday.

Interpol's statement comes a day after Pakistan said it would ask Interpol to put out a "red notice" to arrest him in connection with the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

Mr Musharraf, who lives in Dubai and who is the founder of the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), is accused of failing to prevent Bhutto's murder.

"If and when Pakistan, via its Interpol National Central Bureau in Islamabad, makes a request for the issuance of a red notice for the arrest of former president Pervez Musharraf ... Pakistan's request will be assessed in accordance with Interpol's rules and regulations," said an agency spokesman.

Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, said on Tuesday that Islamabad would demand Mr Musharraf's imprisonment for not providing adequate security for Bhutto, who was killed in a suicide attack shortly after returning to Pakistan to contest the 2008 general elections.

Mr Malik made the announcement in Bhutto's home province of Sindh while presenting a report into the four-year-long investigation into her assassination.

Interpol said it would do a "full review" after Pakistani authorities approached its national central bureau in Islamabad.

A red notice is issued to seek the arrest or provisional arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition.

"Certain procedures would have to be followed ... it would be premature to comment further at this point," said the organisation's spokesman.

Mr Musharraf, a former general, came to power after a military coup in 1999. After nine years in power, he resigned and left the country when his allies faced an embarrassing defeat and the new coalition government threatened him with impeachment. In February last year, a Pakistani anti-terrorism court issued an arrest warrant and declared Mr Musharraf a fugitive for not responding to accusations that he had failed to protect Bhutto.

Yesterday, Mr Musharraf's party said the government was only trying to gain "political mileage".

"They want to blame Musharraf and divert the people's attention," said Haris Nawaz, APML's secretary general in Sindh. "He is not responsible for providing security for anyone. They have no reason or grounds to seek his arrest," he said.

Mr Nawaz accused the government of not finding the real killers. "People are asking them why they have not been able to trace the persons behind her murder," he said.

"Interpol is not going to do anything because they need clear-cut evidence of his involvement."

Another close aide from Dubai defended Mr Musharraf. "The fact of the matter is [former] president Musharraf gave her security," said the source.

He also claimed Interpol could not jail him. "He enjoys immunity as he was the chief of army staff. It was the Pakistan People's Party that did not protect her," he said.

In Dubai last month, APML announced that its leader would not travel to Pakistan as scheduled between January 27 and January 30 to contest the parliamentary elections next year. Party workers blamed the political instability for postponing his return. However, the announcement came soon after Islamabad repeated a long-standing threat to jail Mr Musharraf on his arrival.

The party source said threats would not deter their leader.

"Mr Musharraf will definitely go back. The current scenario is changing. The government is on the verge of collapse," he said.

However, he declined to say when Mr Musharraf would return.