Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who faces charges of treason and murder, has left the country for what his lawyers said was urgent hospital treatment after a three-year travel ban was lifted.
Musharraf boarded an Emirates flight bound for Dubai that departed from Karachi airport at 3.55am (2255GMT) an airport source told AFP, adding that the retired general appeared “relaxed”.
“He was the last person to be embarked on the plane and then the gate was closed,” the source said.
A large convoy of police and paramilitary rangers left Musharraf’s home in Karachi around 3.30 am as a decoy to waiting media crowding his street, while the general travelled to the airport separately.
Lawyers for the former president, who is facing multiple charges including treason and murder over the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, have said he needs urgent treatment for a spinal problem not available in Pakistan.
“I am going abroad for treatment but will return to face the cases against me,” a party spokesman in Karachi quoted him as saying. “I am a commando. I love my motherland.”
“Six to eight weeks are required for the treatment and then he would go back home,” said Dr Amjad Malik, a spokesman for Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League party in Dubai.
Musharraf was banned from leaving Pakistan in March 2013 after he returned to the country on an ill-fated mission to contest elections.
The former ruler was barred from taking part in the polls and instead faces a barrage of legal cases.
In January, Musharraf was acquitted over the 2006 killing of a Baloch rebel leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti.
But four cases against him remain – one accusing him of treason for imposing emergency rule, as well as those alleging the unlawful dismissal of judges, the assassination of opposition leader Bhutto and a deadly raid on Islamabad’s radical Red Mosque.
Bhutto’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of her Pakistan People’s Party, vowed to launch country-wide protests against the government for allowing Musharraf to travel.
Last June, the Sindh high court lifted Musharraf’s travel ban, but the federal government, headed by his long-time rival prime minister Nawaz Sharif, appealed the verdict.
The supreme court on Wednesday upheld the Sindh decision and ordered the government to allow Musharraf to travel.
“Today, lawyers of General Musharraf filed a proper application and in the light of the supreme court decision, the government has allowed him to go abroad for medical treatment,” Pakistan’s interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan confirmed on Thursday.
Musharraf’s lawyers have provided guarantees he will return to Pakistan in six weeks and pledged he will appear in court for several ongoing cases against him, Khan said.
Musharraf ousted Sharif from power in 1999 in a bloodless coup and ruled Pakistan until democracy was restored in 2008.
Musharraf has been under house arrest in Karachi while the cases have ground through Pakistan’s notoriously slow legal system, lurching from adjournment to adjournment with little clear progress apart from the granting of bail.
Analysts have previously said they believe the government lacks the will to offend Pakistan’s powerful military by pushing for Musharraf’s prosecution.