Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has pledged to step down as military chief and restore civilian rule if lawmakers give him another five-year mandate. The Supreme Court is now considering whether he is constitutionally eligible to run in the presidential election on 6 October, and is expected to announce its verdict soon. Atorney General Malik Mohammad Qayyum told the court this week that General Musharraf will stay on as army chief if he is not elected for a second term. Simon Marks looks at the situation from Islamabad ahead of the election.
Pakistan's Supreme Court was thrust into the middle of political life in Islamabad earlier this year. President Pervez Musharraf sparked nationwide protests in March after he suspended the high court's chief justice. He accused Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry of misconduct, but in July the court reinstated the chief justice.
Iftikhar Gilani argues cases before the Supreme Court and took part in demonstrations in support of the chief justice. Gilani says the protests marked a turning point on Pakistan's political path. "That was the catalyst. The lawyers that stood up were not just for the sake of the chief justice," he said. "They were saying, we've had enough of attacks by the military, by the executive, by the generals on the judicial system of the country."
And that has led to a new confidence among some Paksitanis in their country's legal system. Today, petitioners camp out opposite the Supreme Court, campaigning for justice on a variety of issues.
Nasreen Iqbal has spent a month outside the court. She says she lost her home and 12 acres [five hectares] of land that local officials expropriated. The court has already given her some measure of legal relief, but she is hoping for more.
"I came here to appeal to the chief justice of Pakistan to help me again," said Iqbal. "I want the people who occupied my house to be removed. The police have arrested two suspects on the orders of the Supreme Court. Now I want the police to arrest the other 11."
At a political level, the court still could rule against President Musharraf's bid for a further five-year term in office, a judgment that could dramatically curtail his options just days before the October 6th election.
But the Pakistani people's new-found faith in their judicial system may also complicate life for the country's potential civilian rulers like former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who has vowed to return to Pakistan next month from self-imposed exile; and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, now in forced exile in Saudi Arabia.
"I, in fact, said to both of them that Pakistan has changed," says Attorney Asma Jahangir, another advocate before the Supreme Court. "When you come back, it's not the same Pakistan. And people are going to ask questions. It is not going to be the dictate of leadership alone. People will expect more consultation."
In the short term, the presidential candidates will need the support of country's national and provincial assemblies. They, not the voting public, elect the president on October 6th.