Court issues arrest warrant for Musharraf

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A court in Pakistan has issued an arrest warrant for the country's former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, in connection with the assassination of murdered ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi demanded Mr Musharraf appear at a special session of the court on 19 February to face allegations that he deliberately failed to provide her with adequate protection against Taliban militants. "Judge Rana Nisar Ahmad has issued a non-bailable warrant for former president Pervez Musharraf and directed him to appear before the court," a senior prosecutor official, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, told Agence France-Presse. "A joint investigation team that had been formed to probe the assassination said in its report that Musharraf had involvement in the case and was equally responsible. The report said it was a broad conspiracy involving Musharraf, two police officials and terrorists."

The arrest warrant for Mr Musharraf, who has spent most of his time in self-imposed exile in London since he resigned from office in the summer of 2008, followed the earlier issuing of a charge sheet on which his name appeared, along with that of the late Taliban leader Baituallah Mehsud. Investigators say it was Mehsud, subsequently killed by a drone attack in August 2009, who dispatched two men to assassinate Ms Bhutto in December 2007. The former premier had recently returned to Pakistan after a long exile in Britain and was leading her Pakistan's Peoples Party's election campaign.

Last December, police arrested two senior police officers, Saud Aziz and Khurram Shahzad, for alleged dereliction of duty over the assassination of Ms Bhutto after a court issued their arrest warrants.

Mr Aziz, who was the city's police chief at the time of the killing, and Mr Shahzad, another senior policeman in Rawalpindi, had been arrested for their alleged failure to protect the former premier, who died following a gun and suicide bomb attack. Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is now the country's President.

Last year, Mr Musharraf announced the formation of a new political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, and said he would like to return to the country to launch a "jihad against poverty, hunger and illiteracy". Even before he faced charges over the death of Ms Bhutto, the prospect of the former general actually returning to Pakistan was slim. Now it is even more unlikely, even though he has adamantly denied the allegations leveled at him.

Last April, a UN panel accused Mr Musharraf's administration of failing to provide Ms Bhutto with adequate protection and said investigations were hampered by intelligence agencies and other officials who impeded "an unfettered search for the truth". Her return to Pakistan had only happened after months of secret negotiations between her and Mr Musharraf, brokered by Britain and the US.