Pakistan court orders Musharraf to appear over treason

Pakistan's top court summoned former dictator Pervez Musharraf to appear Tuesday to answer allegations of high treason and barred him from leaving the country.

The orders were issued after the Supreme Court heard demands from lawyers for the former military ruler to go on trial for imposing emergency rule and arresting judges in 2007, actions which paved the way for his downfall.

Musharraf was authorised to stand as a candidate in the May 11 general election in the remote northern area of Chitral on Sunday but has been rejected in three other seats, due to the charges against him.

Lawyers want the ex-general, who returned to Pakistan last month from four years of self-imposed exile to run for parliament, tried under Article Six of the High Treason Act 1973.

Judge Jawad Khawaja said it was the "duty and the obligation" of the state to take effective measures against Musharraf "and others who subverted the constitution".

"It is necessary to issue notice to the respondents in these petitions. The office shall ensure service of notice to the respondents for tomorrow," Khawaja told the court.

The judge ordered police around the country to "serve notice" to Musharraf to appear. He is understood to have been in the capital, where he has a farmhouse, since last week.

Government officials should "ensure that the respondent does not leave the jurisdiction of Pakistan", the judge added.

Musharraf returned to Pakistan on March 24 to run for parliament, a move he said was intended to "save" the nuclear-armed state -- afflicted by an economic malaise and near-daily attacks by the Taliban and other militants.

But his homecoming has been muted and the Supreme Court order adds to a series of woes facing the 69-year-old, who is subject to a number of other legal cases dating back to his 1999-2008 rule.

He has been bailed over the 2007 killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and a Baluch rebel leader in 2006, and for sacking and arresting judges in 2007.

Ahead of the judge's order on Monday, lawyer Hamid Khan told the Supreme Court Musharraf had subverted the constitution and should be "punished with death or be jailed for life".

Syed Afshan Adil, a lawyer for Musharraf, told AFP the court should not entertain the petitions against her client because "only (the) state can initiate high treason cases".

During the emergency rule in 2007 Musharraf sacked around 60 top judges including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was detained in his house with his family.

But political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP the Supreme Court was unlikely to force the case against Musharraf.

"I don't think the Supreme Court will order his prosecution, this will be seen as settling accounts with Musharraf," he said.

"If the Supreme Court takes any action then the argument will be that it is a personal vendetta."

It would be for the government -- currently a neutral interim administration -- to decide whether or not to pursue the case against him, Askari said, and for now Musharraf was free to run for the Chitral seat.

The May election will be the first democratic transition of power in Pakistan, which is struggling to shake off the legacy of three extended periods of military rule, most recently under Musharraf.

Since he left power in 2008 his powerbase has shrivelled. Last month he suffered the indignity of having a shoe thrown at him by an angry lawyer -- a deeply insulting gesture in the Muslim world.

He is not thought likely to win more than a couple of seats with his All Pakistan Muslim League party, which he founded in exile with the help of Pakistani expatriates.

Officials in Chitral, where Musharraf hopes to win support because of development work during his rule, approved his candidature on Sunday, but a lawyer in the town said he would appeal against the ruling.