Pakistan's Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear an appeal against President Pervez Musharraf's position as army chief, in a fresh challenge to the beleaguered military leader.
The application was filed by leading Islamist Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the chief of Pakistan's main coalition of fundamentalist parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Front.
"The petition is fixed for regular hearing," judge Javed Iqbal said, adding that objections from the court registrar's office that Ahmed had no authority to lodge the appeal were "devoid of merit."
Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, is seeking re-election as president-in-uniform by parliament next month or October, a move that opposition parties are bitterly contesting.
"The people are fed up with the unconstitutional and dictatorial military regime," Ahmed said outside the courthouse. "We are the people's genuine representatives."
The application says that under military regulations, Musharraf's term as chief of army staff expired in 2001, and that he was no longer eligible to continue in the post after turning 60 in August 2003.
It also argues that in 2004 Musharraf broke a public pledge to hang up his military uniform -- a move which wrecked his then parliamentary alliance with Pakistan's influential Islamist parties.
Musharraf has suffered a series of legal setbacks since his botched attempt in March to sack the head of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
The court reinstated Chaudhry last month after months of nationwide protests and then ruled last week that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the man Musharraf ousted in 1999, could return from exile.
Another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, said in an interview published yesterday that Musharraf had agreed to quit as army chief in a power-sharing deal with her.
Speaking from London, where she currently lives, Bhutto told the Daily Telegraph that while the deal was not yet complete, the "uniform issue is resolved."
"The uniform issue is key and there has been a lot of movement on it in the recent round of talks," she said, adding that the deadline for the deal was the end of the month.
Bhutto said that Musharraf's government would have to make "an upfront gesture of reciprocity, a clear indication of political support for the Pakistan People's Party," which she heads.
Among her other conditions for a deal, according to the Telegraph, were immunity from prosecution, the lifting of a ban on prime ministers serving a third term and the curbing of presidential powers to sack the government.
In a separate interview with the Financial Times also published yesterday, Sharif said that he planned to return to Pakistan within a fortnight to lead a campaign to topple Musharraf.
He called Bhutto's attempts to deal with Musharraf a "setback" and a "clear violation" of a deal agreed between the two former prime ministers to do "no deals with military dictators."