ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A high court stacked with loyalists set the stage Monday for President Pervez Musharraf to resign as army chief and to lead the country as a civilian, tossing out all legal challenges to his re-election in October.
Musharraf, a general who took power in a 1999 coup, is now expected to step down from his military post as early as this weekend, shedding the uniform he has called his “second skin.” Although it would satisfy a key demand, the move is unlikely to mollify his opponents, who Monday continued to demand a rollback of the state of emergency he declared Nov. 3.
Thousands of anti-Musharraf political activists, human-rights workers and lawyers have been arrested under the decree, which suspended Pakistan’s constitution and basic civil liberties. Opposition parties say such repressive measures make a farce of parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8.
Monday’s Supreme Court rulings fulfilled what most analysts agree was Musharraf’s real motive in declaring emergency rule, beyond his stated reason that he needed sweeping powers to quell an Islamic insurgency on the country’s fringes.
A majority of the 10 justices on the current high court are hand-picked replacements of independent-minded judges whom the Pakistani leader swiftly sacked under the state of emergency, before they could rule against him on the legal challenges to his continued presidency.
The bench threw out five petitions alleging that Musharraf’s Oct. 6 re-election by lawmakers was invalid in part because of his dual role as president and head of the army. A sixth petition stemming from the poll but not directly related to Musharraf’s candidacy is expected to be heard – and also dismissed – Thursday.
That would clear the way for Musharraf to make good on his pledge to step down as army chief and take the oath as a civilian president as soon as the Supreme Court certifies the election result.
Opposition leaders denounced the court rulings as illegitimate because the bench was stacked with Musharraf’s allies. Critics also scoffed at how some of the challenges were struck down on grounds of “non-prosecution,” meaning that the petitioners who filed them or the attorneys arguing their case were not present in court.
“They are in jail,” said Athar Minallah, a lawyer and member of one of Musharraf’s early Cabinets.
In giving up his military uniform, Musharraf would meet a crucial demand not just of his political foes but also of the U.S., his most powerful sponsor. The Bush administration considers Musharraf a leading ally in the fight against Islamic militants and has given $10 billion in aid to Pakistan.