- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 1, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state of emergency former President Pervez Musharraf imposed in 2007 was unconstitutional and declared invalid the appointments of judges he made during that period.

The decision could lay the groundwork for treason charges against the former army chief, and some fear it could cause political turmoil at a time when Pakistan is battling a Taliban insurgency. But the court said the ruling - the most severe against a former military leader - would strengthen democracy in a country beset by repeated military dictatorships.

The 14-member bench that delivered the ruling was headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, whose attempted ouster by Mr. Musharraf spurred much of the political turmoil that ultimately led to the strongman’s downfall.

“The constitution is supreme, and this decision will strengthen democracy and democratic institutions,” Chief Justice Chaudhry said.

The court added that rulings made by the judges who were improperly appointed could still stand, and told Parliament to decide which of the laws that Mr. Musharraf pushed through during the unconstitutional emergency could remain on the books.

Mr. Musharraf declared the emergency when it appeared the Supreme Court might challenge his eligibility for office. The measures - which were accompanied by mass detentions and harsh media restrictions - enraged an already emboldened opposition.

Eventually, under domestic and international pressure, Mr. Musharraf allowed elections that brought his foes to power in February 2008. Under threat of impeachment, he stepped down in August 2008.

Since then, many opponents have demanded that he be held accountable.

Mr. Musharraf, who is living in London, ignored a summons to appear before the court or send an attorney to explain his actions.

A man who answered the phone at a number for Mr. Musharraf in Britain said the retired general had no comment.

The court decision was eagerly awaited by many Pakistanis, especially lawyers who led a movement that helped push Mr. Musharraf from office. Many gathered across the country, dancing in the streets and cheering when the verdict was announced.

“Today we have to a great extent achieved our goal, that is independence of judiciary,” said Hamid Khan, one of the petitioners who brought the case to court. “The purpose of this whole exercise is to block military dictators’ intervention in future, which we have been seeing again and again in the past.”

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani welcomed the decision, describing it as a good omen for the future of democracy in Pakistan, which has been run by the army for about half of its nearly 62-year existence.

Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari, also hailed the decision, describing it as “the last nail in the coffin of dictatorship.”

Because of a legal twist, one measure that could come up for review is an ordinance - signed by Mr. Musharraf before the emergency - that granted amnesty in corruption cases to Mr. Zardari and his wife, slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Mr. Zardari succeeded Mrs. Bhutto as leader of the Pakistan People’s Party after she was assassinated in December 2007. As president, he has broad legal immunity for the duration of his term, even if parliament overturns the amnesty deal.

Mr. Musharraf seized power in a 1999 military coup and became a key ally in the U.S.-led war against al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that sparked the American-led invasion of neighboring Afghanistan.

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