Pakistan's Musharraf granted bail in rebel death case

Pakistan's top court Wednesday granted bail to former military ruler Pervez Musharraf over the death of a rebel leader, his lawyers said, bringing closer his possible release after nearly six months of house arrest.

Musharraf has now been granted bail in three major cases against him, including one relating to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

His lawyer said the ruling meant he was a "free man". But he is likely to remain under heavy guard at his villa on the edge of Islamabad, where he has been under house arrest since April, because of serious threats to his life.

Musharraf was head of state in 2006 when the main rebel leader in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, Akbar Bugti, died during an army operation.

His lawyer Ibrahim Satti told AFP a three-member Supreme Court bench had granted bail in the Bugti case in return for surety bonds worth two million rupees ($20,000).

Another counsel for Musharraf, Qamar Afzal, said bail was granted due to lack of evidence.

"Pervez Musharraf is a free man now after getting bail in the Bugti case," Afzal said.

As well as the Bugti and Bhutto cases, Musharraf also faces cases over the suspension of judges during emergency rule, which he imposed in 2007.

The Taliban have threatened to kill the 70-year-old former general, who as president allied Pakistan with Washington in the US "war on terror" in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Security remained tight at Musharraf's villa, an AFP reporter at the scene said, with no sign of any preparations for departure.

Musharraf's spokesman Raza Bokhari said the general was "gratified" by the bail ruling but determined to clear his name of charges which he has always maintained were politically motivated.

"After all these formalities are finalised he would be free to travel within and outside Pakistan, but this is just the beginning. These court cases are a long-run process," Bokhari told AFP.

"He will continue to fight these cases until his name is clear of these false, fabricated and fictitious charges."

The secretary-general of Musharraf's political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, said he expected "progress" on Thursday after the bonds are paid but denied Musharraf planned to leave Pakistan.

"There has been no deal with the government, nor has Musharraf taken any decision to immediately leave the country," Muhammad Amjad told reporters.

Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March to run in the general election, vowing to "save" the country from economic collapse and militancy.

But he was barred from standing in the election, won convincingly by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- the man he ousted from power in 1999 -- and was hit with a barrage of criminal cases dating back to his rule.

He has been living in part of his 1,100 square metre (12,000 square foot) house, declared a "sub-jail" under the auspices of the tough Adyala prison in Rawalpindi. He is guarded by some 300 police, paramilitaries and marksmen.

Reports have claimed he is enjoying a comfortable life in detention. He has even had the services of his personal cook because of his fears of being poisoned.

Taking the former chief of army staff into custody was an unprecedented move in a country ruled for more than half of its life by the military. It was seen by many as a challenge to the armed forces' power.

Since Sharif won the election there have been repeated rumours that a deal would be reached to allow Musharraf to leave Pakistan before his trials were completed.

One theory was that Musharraf might be allowed to visit his sick elderly mother in Dubai on compassionate grounds, but Amjad rejected the idea.

"Musharraf's mother has been quite unwell for quite some time but he has not reached any deal nor has he made any request to leave the country to see his mother," Amjad said.