A Supreme Court hand-picked by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf swiftly dismissed legal challenges to his continued rule yesterday, opening the way for him to serve another five-year term -- this time solely as a civilian president.
The opposition has denounced the new court, saying any decisions by a tribunal stripped of independent voices had no credibility. Musharraf purged the court on Nov. 3 when he declared emergency rule, days before the tribunal was expected to rule on his eligibility to serve as president.
The US has put immense pressure on Musharraf to restore the Constitution and free thousands of political opponents jailed under the emergency before Pakistan's parliamentary election on Jan. 8.
Yesterday's court ruling could hasten Musharraf's decision to take off his army uniform. The general has said he would quit as armed forces commander by the end of the month, assuming he was given the legal go-ahead by the court to remain as president.
Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar dismissed three opposition petitions challenging Musharraf's victory in a disputed presidential election last month, saying two had been "withdrawn" because opposition lawyers were not present in court.
The third was withdrawn by a lawyer for the party of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who said the court was illegitimate.
"We asked for [the case] to be postponed because we said there is no Constitution," she told reporters in Karachi after a meeting the US ambassador.
She said she had no plans to revive power-sharing negotiations with Musharraf, broken off after the general's decision to declare emergency rule.
"We are not going back to the former track," Bhutto said. "We are interested in a roadmap for democracy, but we do not have the confidence that General Musharraf's regime could give us that roadmap."
One of Musharraf's first acts after seizing extraordinary powers was to purge the Supreme Court of independent-minded judges. Opponents had argued that he ought to be disqualified under a constitutional ban on public servants running for elected office, which they said applied because Musharraf was still army chief.
He said last week he expected the retooled court to quickly endorse his reelection. Deliberations lasted less then a day on the most serious cases challenging Musharraf.