View Full Version : Judge Ruling Deals Blow To Embattled Pakistan Leader

07-20-2007, 09:17 AM
Judge ruling deals blow to embattled Pakistan leader


Published: Friday July 20, 2007

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, battling a wave of Islamist violence, suffered another blow Friday when the supreme court gave a victory to his political nemesis, the country's top judge.

Musharraf ousted independent-minded chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in March, but the court reinstated him and quashed corruption charges filed by the military ruler in what critics say was a bid to retain his grip on power.

The ruling was set to embolden pro-democracy activists who have staged mass rallies around the country in support of Chaudhry since his suspension.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the government had accepted the supreme court's decision, which sparked massive celebrations by lawyers, but added it was "not the time to claim victory or defeat."

The ruling hit Musharraf during the worst crisis of his eight-year rule, amid a wave of deadly violence sparked by the storming by government forces last week of the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad.

He has also come under pressure from the United States, one of Islamabad's key allies, to crack down on Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in the troubled tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

The death toll from the carnage passed 200 in less than a week Friday, after another suicide attack killed four people in the tribal area of North Waziristan, where militants last Sunday tore up a shaky ceasefire pact.

As fighting raged between troops and pro-Taliban fighters there, Musharraf convened a top-level crisis meeting, while government envoys and Pashtun elders met in a secret location, scrambling to salvage the ceasefire accord.

Musharraf has vowed to hunt down Islamic extremists hiding in Pakistan's rugged areas on the Afghan border, according to the United States and NATO forces in war-torn Afghanistan.

The White House -- losing patience after a recent intelligence assessment said al-Qaeda has "safe havens" in western Pakistan -- has ramped up the pressure on its key ally, and even warned the United States may go it alone.

Asked on Thursday whether US President George W. Bush had ruled out US military action inside Pakistan, his spokesman Tony Snow replied: "We never rule out any options, including striking actionable targets."

When reporters asked if Bush would first seek authorisation from Musharraf, Snow told them: "Those are matters that are best not discussed publicly."

Musharraf on Friday gathered key officials for an emergency meeting, focused on restoring order in the battle-torn northwest.

Aziz, along with the governor of the troubled North West Frontier Province and other key officials, were attending the talks at Musharraf's army residence in Rawalpindi, a presidential spokesman told AFP.

"The participants will exchange views on the law and order situation in the wake of the recent bomb blasts, and discuss measures to control the situation and bring peace," the spokesman said.

Pakistan has been terrorised by an unprecedented wave of suicide attacks for almost a week, with bombers on Thursday targeting an army mosque, a police college and a convoy carrying Chinese nationals, killing a total of 54 people.

The attack against the Chinese mine engineers in insurgency-wracked Baluchistan apparently aimed to harm Islamabad's relations with Beijing, another crucial ally and its biggest provider of aid and military hardware.

China condemned the suicide car bomb attack that left at least 30 Pakistanis dead in the country's southwest, two weeks after demanding better security for its citizens over the killing of three Chinese men.

Musharraf, who this week ruled out declaring a state of emergency or scrapping planned elections, has urged the nation to stand united.

"The challenge needs to be faced with courage, but one person alone cannot do it," he said. "I cannot do it alone. Neither the police, nor the army can do it alone, unless the people of the country support it."