In Pakistan, Court Backs Musharraf's Reelection

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 19 -- Pakistan's Supreme Court, newly stacked with allies of President Pervez Musharraf, on Monday dismissed most of the challenges to his reelection. Opposition leaders rejected the ruling as engineered and illegitimate, in the latest controversy in the country's ongoing political crisis.

Deliberating for just under three hours, the judges, many of them handpicked by Musharraf, struck down the five main challenges to his reelection. The sixth and final petition will be heard Thursday, though analysts expect it also will be dismissed.

Pakistani opposition parties had asserted that Musharraf was ineligible to stand for reelection last month while also serving as chief of the army. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear challenges in the case when Musharraf fired several justices and proclaimed emergency rule Nov. 3.

Musharraf has said that once the court clears all the challenges to his reelection, he will shed his uniform and become a civilian president.

On Monday, the president also said he was asking the country's electoral commission to call parliamentary elections for Jan. 8. Opposition leaders have said the elections will be deeply flawed and unfair if conducted during a state of emergency. Hundreds of political leaders remain jailed, and independent TV news stations have been blacked out.

In a rare public appearance Monday, Musharraf insisted he was the only leader who could safeguard the country as Islamic extremists increase their attacks in the northwest.

"I could have said thank you and walked away," he said at a ceremony to break ground for a highway and bridge project in the southern city of Karachi. "But this was not the right approach, because I cannot watch this country go down in front of me after so many achievements and such an economic turnaround."

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte held talks with Musharraf over the weekend in an attempt to press him to end emergency rule, restore the constitution and free political opponents. But there was no indication that Musharraf would bend to the growing pressure from Washington.

In Karachi, U.S. Ambassador Anne W. Patterson met with opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who has aborted U.S.-backed plans to form a political alliance with Musharraf. Bhutto and Musharraf are no longer speaking.

"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," Patterson told reporters.

Bhutto said she was frustrated that the Bush administration had not made lifting the emergency a condition for the continued disbursement of U.S. aid. The United States has delivered more than $10 billion in aid to Musharraf's government since 2001, saying the money helps train and arm the Pakistani military in its fight against extremism.

"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.

In a separate development, opposition leader Imran Khan, who was jailed by the government last week, began a hunger strike to protest emergency rule. Khan, of the Pakistan Justice Movement, is a former cricket star and an icon for students opposed to Musharraf's government. Members of his party said they hoped his hunger strike would encourage young people to keep protesting emergency rule.

"This is the only tool Khan has left to tell the world about the suffering of Pakistan," Hafeez Niazi, Khan's brother-in-law, said in a telephone interview from Lahore. "He feels this is the only way to bring attention to the issue now."

Political opposition leaders have also said they are considering a boycott of the elections.

"The elections will be a ruse and a joke all over the world," said Farid Ahmad Paracha, deputy secretary general of Pakistan's most popular Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami. "The U.S. has been cheated, and the Pakistani people will suffer yet again."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company