Pervez Musharraf is a man of strong nerves, but he felt pain in the chest and doctors are examining him. – Defense lawyer Khalid Ranjha
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharraf was rushed to hospital on Thursday with a "heart problem" he experienced while on his way to a court hearing in a high treason case, police and lawyers said.
The unexpected detour is the latest drama in the legal problems that the former army chief has faced since returning to the country in March in hopes of running in elections.
It was also the third time the former strongman failed to show up in court for the key case against him.
Instead of a political comeback, Musharraf has been confronted with a barrage of legal cases relating to his time in office. But the high treason case is the most serious and could result in the death penalty if he's convicted — a stark fall from grace for the 70-year-old in a country where top generals are usually above the law.
Deputy Inspector Jan Mohammed told the court on Thursday that Musharraf was taken to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in the nearby city of Rawalpindi after falling ill on his way from his farmhouse on the Islamabad suburbs to the National Library where the high treason proceedings are being held.
One of Musharraf's lawyers, Khalid Ranjha, said he had developed a "heart problem" and had gone to the hospital instead of the court.
An active swimmer and former army commando, Musharraf is not publicly known to have had any heart issues.
Thursday's hearing was the third of three in the high treason case that Musharraf has missed so far in the course of two weeks. He missed the previous two, including one on Wednesday, following bomb scares. But the judge had ordered that Musharraf appear in court on Thursday, setting up a potential showdown with the man who was once the most powerful person in the country.
His lawyers initially said Thursday that Musharraf would probably appear in court but then later said that he was taken to the hospital.
"Pervez Musharraf is a man of strong nerves, but he felt pain in the chest and doctors are examining him" said defense lawyer Khalid Ranjha.
The prosecution has been pushing for Musharraf's arrest if he does not attend the high treason hearings in person.
But later Thursday, the top judge in the three-judge panel decided to exempt Musharraf from the day's proceedings because of his health issues, and adjourned the case till Monday. There was no immediate update on Musharraf's health or condition.
The hospitalization sparked questions that he was using a health scare to avoid the embarrassment of appearing in court. When asked whether that was the case, a lawyer for Musharraf said the former commando was afraid of nothing.
"He is not the type of person who is afraid of, or fears something," said Ahmed Qasuri.
Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup but was forced to step down in 2008. He returned to the country in March hoping to take part in elections but instead was hit by a series of legal cases.
The treason case — the most serious one against Musharraf — carries the possibility of life in prison or the death penalty.