November 19, 2007

No Shocker: Court Approves Musharraf Election

To no one's great surprise, the reconstituted Pakistani Supreme Court has approved the election of Pervez Musharraf to the civilian presidency. The approval will allow Musharraf to resign as promised as army chief of staff while retaining executive authority. It may also open a path to a negotiated end to emergency rule, even though few put any credibility in the court:

A Supreme Court hand-picked by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf swiftly dismissed legal challenges to his continued rule on Monday, 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 Nov. 3 when he declared emergency rule, days before the tribunal was expected to rule on his eligibility to serve as president. ...

Monday's court ruling could hasten Musharraf's decision to give up his army post. 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petitions challenging Musharraf's victory in a disputed presidential election last month, saying two had been "withdrawn" because opposition lawyers were not present in court. The third was withdrawn by a lawyer for the party of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who suggested the court was illegitimate.

Bhutto still talks tough, but the problem of managing Pakistan through the crisis to a positive conclusion remains. So far, Musharraf has not shut the door on democracy entirely, although his promise to hold elections under emergency rule -- while the opposition cannot hold rallies -- does little to bolster confidence. Also, Musharraf isn't just imagining the existential threat of radical Islamists in Pakistan. Whatever solutions may be at hand has to take into account the need to have Musharraf striking against the radicals.

The decision could open a pragmatic path out of the woods. Since the power-sharing deal between Musharraf and Bhutto was predicated on Musharraf's ability to run for the presidency, Bhutto has not lost anything, at least not yet. If the various factions can simply allow the fait accompli in exchange for an end to emergency rule, Pakistan could find its way out of the box in which Musharraf placed it. That resolution would allow Bhutto and Sharif to contest with PML-Q in January, and then use their parliamentary influence to steer a more democratic course for Pakistan while Musharraf takes on the radicals in Waziristan.

Unfortunately, that still leaves open the question of the judiciary. How can Pakistan restore an independent judiciary while allowing for the fight against the extremists? Can Musharraf and the judiciary co-exist after the emergency rule decree expires? It seems unlikely that a restored judiciary would avoid re-opening the case against Musharraf's election -- and that impulse may keep any settlement from succeeding.

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