| Updated at: 1111 PST, Saturday, February 12, 2011|
ISLAMABAD: An anti-terrorism court on Saturday issued an arrest warrant for former president Pervez Musharraf over the assassination of ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto, a public prosecutor said.
Musharraf is in self-imposed exile in London. He will not be going back to Pakistan for any court hearing, his spokesman said.
The former president and military ruler is alleged to have been part of a "broad conspiracy" to have his political rival killed before elections, though the exact nature of the charges against him was not immediately clear.
"Judge Rana Nisar Ahmad has issued non-bailable warrant for former president Pervez Musharraf and directed him to appear before the court on February 19," special prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali said.
He said that "a joint investigation team that had been formed to probe the assassination said in its report Musharraf had involvement in the case and was equally responsible".
"The report said it was a broad conspiracy involving Pervez Musharraf, two police officials and terrorists," Ali said after the closed-door hearing that took place in Rawalpindi's Adiala prison.
Asked what would happen if Musharraf did not appear in court, the prosecutor said: "We will see when the time comes."
But Musharraf's spokesman in London said that the former president would not comply with the warrant.
"No, he won't be going back for this hearing," Fawad Chaudhry said, adding that the warrant was "totally ridiculous".
Chaudhry ridiculed accusations that Musharraf failed to provide adequate security for Bhutto.
"How can the president of a country be made responsible for the non-provision of security? It's totally ridiculous, you cannot pin criminal responsibility on a president for that," Chaudhry said.
He insisted that Musharraf still planned to go back to Pakistan eventually to contest elections, adding: "His return to Pakistan will be a political decision."
Reacting strongly to the warrant, barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, secretary-general of All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party, accused the government of not following legal procedures.
"I will rather call it unilateral as arrest warrant has been issued without hearing Pervez Musharraf," Saif said.
He added: "No list of questions had been sent to Musharraf by the government, which is trying to deflect public opinion from its own incompetency and failure to deliver to masses by wrongly implicating Musharraf in the case.
"The government is also trying to protect the real assassins by implicating people in the case who have no link whatsoever with it." (AFP)