| Imran Khan (centre) being welcomed by party leaders in Islamabad on Thursday. (Reuters)
Islamabad, Nov. 22: President Pervez Musharraf’s script for a tightly controlled political transition moved ahead on cue today, as his hand-picked supreme court dismissed the final legal challenge to Musharraf becoming President for another five-year term.
Officials also said he would resign as army chief within days.
Aides and supporters of Musharraf said they hoped that once he is sworn in as a civilian President, probably by this weekend, the barrage of domestic and foreign criticism against his imposition of emergency rule will recede and the nation’s attention will turn to parliamentary and provincial legislative elections now scheduled for January 8.
“All the issues making the politicians agitate will be resolved,” said Tariq Azim Khan, the deputy information minister. “General Musharraf will take off his uniform and become Mr President. The emergency definitely will be short-lived. The people should begin preparing for elections and let the best man win.”
Musharraf has publicly vowed to step down as army chief “the moment” the high court validates his October 6 election by the outgoing parliament and he is formally notified by the national election commission.
Officials said he could shed his uniform and be sworn in as civilian President as early as Saturday.
The court, composed of 10 judges who agreed to serve under emergency rule and the suspended Constitution, performed as expected by dismissing five legal challenges to Musharraf’s election early this week, and then dismissing a sixth more minor challenge today.
Previous high court members who refused to sign a new oath have been suspended, and the senior lawyers who brought the major petitions against Musharraf’s right to serve as President are now behind bars.
However, with national elections likely to take place in less than six weeks, it remains unclear whether Pakistan’s divided Opposition parties — torn between playing into Musharraf’s political scheme or standing on lonely principle — will participate or boycott the polls.
The most prominent Opposition leader, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said she had not yet decided. Bhutto, who once sought a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, has become increasingly critical of him since returning from exile in October and being put under house arrest twice. However, she has also reportedly come under pressure from Washington to tone down her rhetoric and re-engage in the political process.
Another respected Opposition leader, former cricket star Imran Khan, was released from jail yesterday to a tumultuous public welcome and promptly urged all parties to boycott the elections, which he called “the biggest fraud in the history of Pakistan”.
Even if the planned elections are flawed, hey could be sufficient to earn Musharraf a reprieve from mounting international criticism of his rule.