By Rob Crilly, Islamabad
It is the first time such a senior military figure has been indicted and threatens to pitch the new government of Nawaz Sharif into conflict with the country’s powerful generals, anxious to protect one of their own.
Mr Musharraf, 69, who seized power from Mr Sharif in a military coup in 1999, faces a string of further court cases and has lived largely under house arrest since returning to Pakistan in March.
He was bundled into court amid tight security on Tuesday morning and appeared only briefly to be told he was being charged with murder.
Journalists were not allowed into the court room for the 20-minute hearing.
“He was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation for murder,” said Chaudhry Azhar, the public prosecutor, at the anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi hearing the case. Mr Musharraf’s legal team has said all along that the charges against him are politically motivated.
“All the cases against Musharraf are fabricated. He denied all the charges,” said Afshan Adil, one of his lawyers.
Scores of armed guards surrounded the court, not far from where Mrs Bhutto was killed as she left a campaign rally.
There was no public claim of responsibility for her murder although Mr Musharraf’s government at the time released what it said were intercepted conversations showing the Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, was responsible. He has since been killed in a US drone strike.
A United Nations investigation concluded that Mrs Bhutto’s death could have been prevented with better security.
In the weeks running up to her death, Mrs Bhutto claimed her life was in danger and asked for better protection.
The indictment follows lingering speculation about the possibility of a behind-the-scenes deal that could allow Mr Musharraf to leave Pakistan without facing the courts and embarrassing the military.
For now, Mr Musharraf remains under house arrest at his Mediterranean-style villa outside Islamabad pondering whether he made the right decision to return earlier this year to contest elections – elections from which he was barred by the court.
One of his former advisers said: “It is a mystery to us why he ever returned. Maybe it was arrogance, hubris, and he thought the country still loved him. Or maybe he was just homesick.”
The new government, led by Mr Sharif, has said he should stand trial for treason for subverting the constitution and has appointed a committee to investigate him.
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