ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that the suspension of the country’s chief justice in March by the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was illegal, dealing Musharraf a strong rebuke and raising new questions about his ability to continue his rule past this year.
(New York Times News Service) ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that the suspension of the country’s chief justice in March by the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was illegal, dealing Musharraf a strong rebuke and raising new questions about his ability to continue his rule past this year.
The decision, which reinstated the chief justice, was another blow to Musharraf, who finds himself increasingly beset by Islamic militants and pro-democracy opponents as U.S. intelligence agencies lose confidence in his ability to root out al-Qaida and Taliban militants.
Musharraf’s critics had accused him of dismissing the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, to install someone more likely to bend to his authority as the general was expected to face critical legal challenges this year to his continued rule.
The chief justice surprised many, including Musharraf, by challenging his dismissal, turning a pre-emptive move by the president into a watershed for the nation. Chaudhry has since become a rallying point for Pakistanis frustrated with nearly eight years of military rule.
After the verdict was read Friday afternoon, the courtroom exploded into revelry. Supporters poured out of the courtroom with delight. "Mubarak," they said to one another, Urdu for "congratulations." "Pakistan is saved," one man shouted.
"It’s a big blow to the Musharraf regime," Chaudhry’s chief counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, declared afterward. "It’s a big blow to dictatorship."
The ruling seems likely to bear not only on the fate of the president, but also on Washington’s strategy of backing him as the linchpin of its fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in the region.
Already a U.S. intelligence report concluded that al-Qaida continues to find sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and suggested that military strikes on Pakistani territory could not be ruled out if Pakistan did not show greater results.
The court decision has given a new boost to the pro-democracy forces arrayed against Musharraf.
Musharraf, who took power in a coup in 1999, is likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court if he seeks to be re-elected president while continuing to hold the title of army chief of staff. He is also likely to face a legal challenge if he insists on being re-elected by the sitting Parliament before his term expires this year.