ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that former president Pervez Musharraf trampled the constitution when he imposed emergency rule two years ago and all actions taken by him then were illegal.
Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in 1999, quit as president almost a year ago to avoid impeachment and has been living in London for the past two months.
Friday’s judgment, delivered by a panel of 14 judges, did not touch on whether Musharraf should be punished for his misrule, but lawyers and politicians said it was a landmark ruling that would deter future power grabs by Pakistani generals.
Hoping to secure a second term as president before giving up his dual role as army chief, Musharraf purged judges who stood in his way, suspended the constitution and ordered the arrest of hundreds of political opponents in November 2007.
Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari, described the ruling as a “triumph of the democratic principles, a stinging negation of dictatorship”.
Neither Musharraf nor his lawyers attended this week’s hearings, despite being summoned by the court headed by his nemesis, Chief Justice Chaudhry.
Lawyers clapped and shouted “Long live the chief justice” and “Hang Musharraf” after Chaudhry read the judgment. “It locks the door to future adventurism,” Aitzaz Ahsan, the leader of the lawyers’ movement that challenged Musharraf’s rule, told reporters.
A lawyer had asked the panel to launch a treason case against Musharraf, but Chaudhry said the Supreme Court did not have the authority to do so.
Under Pakistan’s constitution, any charges of treason against Musharraf would have to come from parliament. The previous parliament had endorsed Musharraf’s actions.
While Musharraf is regarded as “yesterday’s man”, analysts say there are risks any legal vendetta against Musharraf could pose additional problems for Pakistan’s civilian leaders.
Pakistan is fighting a Taliban-inspired insurgency across its northwest and is struggling to keep its economy afloat with the help of International Monetary Fund money.
Whatever parliament decides, those judges still serving who swore allegiance to Musharraf during the emergency will be removed.
Once the most powerful man in Pakistan and a valued ally of the United States, Musharraf’s popularity nosedived after he tried to dismiss Chaudhry in early 2007, sparking a crisis that led to his downfall.
Even the army distanced itself from Musharraf as his grip began to slip, but the country’s powerful generals will be reluctant to see their old chief punished or humiliated.
Pakistan has had four military rulers, including Musharraf, since becoming a republic in 1956.