ISLAMABAD – An anti-terrorism court judge issued an arrest warrant Saturday for former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf in connection with the 2007 assassination of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, state-run television reported.
The warrant is the latest legal trouble to face the retired general, a one-time U.S. ally who left Pakistan for Britain in 2008 after being forced out of the presidency he secured in 1999 military coup. Despite his promises to return to Pakistan and lead a new political party, court motions against the former ruler make it increasingly unlikely he will.
Along with issuing the warrant Saturday, Judge Rana Nisar Ahmad also ordered Musharraf to appear before the court on Feb. 19, Pakistan Television reported. Lawyers in the case could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bhutto was killed Dec. 27, 2007, in a gun and suicide bomb blast during a rally weeks after returning to Pakistan to campaign in new elections that Musharraf reluctantly agreed to allow after months of domestic and international pressure.
It was not immediately clear on what basis the arrest warrant was issued. But many of Bhutto's supporters accuse the former president of intentionally not doing enough to ensure her protection, and trying to cover up government ineptitude in the case afterward.
Musharraf spokesman Saif Ali Khan told a private channel that the former leader will defend himself before the court "at an appropriate time." He did not elaborate.
After her death, Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party rode a wave of public sympathy to garner the most seats in the February 2008 elections. Months later, the party forced Musharraf to quit the presidency by threatening impeachment. He left for London later in the year, and has since spent a good deal of time on the lecture circuit, including in the United States.
The U.S.-backed Musharraf for much of his military rule because he was, at least officially, an ally in the American-led war on global terrorism, and provided Washington assistance in pursuing militants who used Pakistan's soil as a hideout to prepare attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.
But domestic mistakes, including his attempts to fire the chief justice of the Supreme Court, pummeled his popularity, leading to mass protests that ultimately led Musharraf to allow the new elections.
The new Pakistani president and head of the ruling People's Party is Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower. He also supports the U.S. and has backed offensives against militants on Pakistani territory.
Also Saturday, a man detonated explosives as army troops prepared to storm his hideout in northwest Pakistan, killing himself and wounding at least three soldiers, a senior army official said.
The blast occurred outside the town of Bhat Khela in Khyber Pakhtunkwa province after troops acting on a tip from residents surrounded a militant hideout and told those inside to surrender, Brig. Saeed Ullah said. Soldiers killed a second militant in the shootout that followed the explosion.
Ullah said security forces detained five men from the area on suspicion of sheltering the militants, who he said were planning a suicide attack in the Swat Valley. Bhat Khela is located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Mingora, the main town in Swat.
The Pakistani army launched a major anti-Taliban offensive in 2009 in Swat, a one-time tourist haven largely overrun by militants beginning in 2007.
Though the monthslong offensive was hailed a success, militant activity is still reported in the picturesque region and concerns are growing that the insurgents could rise again.
Associated Press Writer Sherin Zada contributed to this report from Mingora.