ISLAMABAD: At the end of a quiet lane snaking through the well-heeled Islamabad suburb of Chak Shahzad, a terracotta-coloured house modelled on a Moroccan courtyard home stands amid spreading orchards and wheatfields.
It would be a restful, bucolic scene, were it not for the army of 300 policemen, paramilitaries, soldiers, snipers and anti-terrorist officers on hand to guard the owner – former dictator Pervez Musharraf.
One-time military strongman is under house arrest, but enjoying detention de luxe: writing his memoirs, working out each day and eating meals cooked by his personal chef.
The former general, who ruled from 1999-2008 after deposing an elected government in a bloodless coup, returned to Pakistan after years of self-imposed exile in March.
He came vowing to stand in the general election and “save” Pakistan, but his arrival restarted a barrage of legal cases relating to his time in power, including murder charges over the death of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
The Chak Shahzad house was declared a “sub-jail” by a court in April, and he has lived there in detention since, as the cases against him grind through Pakistan’s sclerotic judicial system.
As the man who allied his country with Washington in its “war on terror” after the 9/11 attacks, Musharraf is in danger from militants who have vowed to kill him.
So his prison and refuge is the house he commissioned back in 2006, at the height of his power, which was still under construction when he was forced from power and into exile.
“The house was 95 percent finished before he left, but the first time he spent a night in the house was after he came back this year,” said Hammad Husain, the architect.
Inside the villa, the walls tell the story of Musharraf’s career – photos that form a Who’s Who of world leaders, the swords and guns one might expect of a military man, and a piece of fabric from the cloth of the Kaaba in Makkah, a holy relic given by the Saudi king.
Aides say Musharraf, 70, is keeping his body in shape with 75-minute workouts every morning and his mind sharp with reading and writing.
“He is writing a second book. I have seen the text. He has written substantially but there is still work to be done,” his official spokesman Raza Bokhari said.
The new volume will follow on from his first book of memoirs published in 2006, “In the Line of Fire”.
“It is picking up from 2007 onwards, from the peak of his popularity to his downfall, to life in self-imposed exile and then formation of a political party and return to Pakistan,” Bokhari said.
The former president lives with his bodyguards, assistants and personal cook in part of the 1,100 square metre house, run under the auspices of the tough Adiala prison in Rawalpindi.
Despite the rigorous security, he still fears his enemies will try to get to him.
“His food is not prepared in prison, but on the premises, by his cook, for security reasons. He is afraid of being poisoned,” a prison source said.
To see him, his family and friends must get permission from the authorities, which can take up to a week.
His close family have visited him since his house arrest began, but they spend most of their time abroad. His wife Sehba lives in a luxury apartment in Dubai, his son Bilal is based in the US and his daughter Ayla had to leave Karachi this summer because of threats against her.
He keeps a close eye on his legal tussles, accusations his entourage dismiss as politically motivated, “false, fabricated and fictitious”.
There have been rumours for months of a possible deal to let Musharraf go back into exile, to avoid a clash between the government and the all-powerful army, which is keen to avoid seeing one of its own tried by civilians.
“He is in very good spirits, he’s a strong person. Though he is a little disappointed in the judicial system in Pakistan,” said an aide.