Jun 29, 2007

Musharraf drops objection to court hearing case of suspended judge

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has dropped his objection to a court hearing charges against Pakistan’s chief justice — a concession in a case that has fueled opposition to his military rule.

Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on March 9, triggering mass demonstrations by lawyers and opposition activists, and a bruising legal battle.

The president, who said he suspended Chaudhry because of evidence of misconduct, asked a judicial complaints tribunal to investigate the charges, which include nepotism.

But Chaudhry, who denies wrongdoing, has argued that the tribunal is biased against him and that only the Supreme Court can examine allegations against its top judge. He also insists his suspension was illegal.

In a Supreme Court hearing Thursday on Chaudhry’s appeal, a government lawyer said he had instructions “from the highest authority” that the court could take over the case.

“I am giving an offer,” Malik Mohammed Qayyum said. “Whatever finding you give, we will accept it.”

The court made no decision on Qayyum’s proposal. But the presiding judge warned him that, if it accepted, proceedings would have to start from scratch.

“There is inherent danger in your submissions,” Justice Khalil-ur-Rahman Ramday said.

Chaudhry’s lead counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, said that would mean quashing the orders suspending the chief justice — a victory for his side.

“The government has a very weak case, it’s obvious, and is trying to cut its losses,” Ahsan told The Associated Press after the court adjourned.

Musharraf insists the case against Chaudhry has no political motive.

However, opponents accuse him of trying to remove a judge who might have upheld objections to him continuing as president and chief of Pakistan’s powerful military.

Musharraf, a key US ally who seized power in a 1999 coup, has said he will ask lawmakers for a new five-year mandate this fall.

However, opposition parties say the current assemblies lack legitimacy and that he should seek a fresh mandate only after general elections due by January.

The crisis has fueled speculation that Musharraf will shore up his support by reaching a power-sharing deal with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of the main opposition Pakistan People’s Party.

Bhutto echoes Musharraf’s moderate, pro-US line, but insists he must give up his military role and restore a fully civilian government if he wants to remain president

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