A judge in Pakistan has issued an arrest warrant for Pervez Musharraf, that country's former military ruler, state-run television reported Saturday.


Pervez Musharraf talks during a public rally of his new political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, in Birmingham, England, last October. ((Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press))

The warrant is in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan Television said.

Musharraf left Pakistan for London 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.


Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto is seen in this Oct. 18, 2007 photo being rescued from her truck after a bomb explosion in Karachi, Pakistan. Bhutto was killed in December the same year. ((Fareed Khan/Associated Press))

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 of 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.

The United States 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 neighbouring Afghanistan.

But domestic mistakes, including his attempts to fire the chief justice of the Supreme Court, pummelled 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.