ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court, packed with government-friendly judges since the imposition of emergency rule, dismissed on Monday the main challenges to President Pervez Musharraf’s re-election last month.
Once the court clears Musharraf’s October 6 victory, he has vowed to quit as army chief and become a civilian president, although he remains under fire from the opposition and Western allies for setting back democracy in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
A bench of 10 judges struck down the five main challenges to Musharraf’s right to contest the election while still army chief. The sixth and final petition will be heard on Thursday.
“The notification of the president’s election cannot be issued because a petition is still pending. Hopefully, it will be done after that,” Attorney-General Malik Qayyum told Reuters.
Musharraf’s main aim in taking emergency powers was to purge the Supreme Court of men he feared would annul his re-election.
The Karachi stock market’s main index rebounded more than 350 points from lows following the court’s action to end Monday 1.2 percent higher. It is still nearly 5 percent below pre-emergency levels, but 32 percent up since the start of the year.
During Monday’s proceedings, judges warned lawyers they faced contempt charges and cancellation of their licenses if they persisted in challenging the legality of Musharraf’s new bench.
“You’re taking it lightly, but you don’t know that your license can be cancelled and strict action can be taken against you,” Justice Nawaz Abbasi told a lawyer acting for Wajihuddin Ahmed, a former chief justice, who had run against Musharraf.
On Sunday Musharraf said he was asking the Election Commission to call a parliamentary election on January 8.
“Inshallah (God willing), the general elections in the country would be held on January 8,” the official Associated Press of Pakistan news agency quoted Musharraf as saying.
But he gave no date for lifting the state of emergency, despite hearing from U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte on Saturday that the election’s credibility would suffer unless the emergency announced on November 3 was rolled back.
Negroponte, who left Pakistan on Sunday, was careful not to undermine General Musharraf, a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. But he stuck to Washington’s stated position that thousands of people detained in the last two weeks should be released and curbs on the media should be lifted.
Pakistani newspapers were disparaging of Negroponte’s failure to back words with some kind of threat unless Musharraf complied.
“To see the U.S. stick it out on the wrong side of the fence will not win the latter any approval with the people of Pakistan,” Dawn said in an editorial.
Negroponte said reconciliation was “very desirable” between moderate political forces, apparently referring to the breakdown of an understanding between Musharraf and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto for possible post-election power sharing.
U.S. Ambassador Anne W. Patterson met Bhutto on Monday.
“I am meeting the former prime minister and other political leaders to confirm American interest in free, fair and transparent elections and to assure her and all others that we will do everything possible to ensure that the electoral process takes place,” she told journalists at Bhutto’s Karachi residence.
Bhutto said she was undecided whether to participate in polls she doubted would be fair. She ruled out further negotiations with Musharraf because of a lack of trust.
The other main opposition party led by Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister ousted by Musharraf in 1999 and later sent into exile, was also considering boycotting the elections.
“If the United States gives him $10 billion and does not get him to do what it wants, how is it going to expect us to make him do what he does not want to do,” Bhutto said.
Most U.S. aid that Pakistan has received since joining a war on terrorism in late 2001 has gone to its military. The New York Times reported on Sunday nearly $100 million had been earmarked to help Musharraf keep his nuclear arsenal secure in a country threatened by rampant militancy.
Musharraf said emergency rule would remain in place for longer to reinforce the fight against Islamist militants threatening Pakistan’s stability and ensure security for polls.
Meantime, the army was expected to launch a major operation to crush a militant movement in Swat, a valley in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where hundreds of people have been killed in clashes with security forces in the past few weeks.
Around 80 people were killed in an outbreak of sectarian violence over the weekend in Parachinar, the main town in the Kurram tribal agency bordering Afghanistan, as the security situation in the frontier region continued to deteriorate.