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Musharraf shuns Pakistan court hearing

Islamabad, July 29, 2009

A Pakistan Supreme Court hearing into allegations of misrule by former president Pervez Musharraf resumed on Wednesday, without any lawyers present to defend the ex-army chief, who left for London two months ago.

Last week, a 14-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ordered Musharraf to answer charges that he had violated the constitution by ousting the judiciary and imposing emergency rule in November, 2007 in a desperate move to extend his rule.

Fighting a Taliban insurgency in the northwest, dire economic challenges and doubts about its own standards of governance, Pakistan's fragile civilian government can ill-afford the distraction of raking over the past, according to critics.

Others say leaders should be held accountable if democratic institutions are to grow, and future generals should be made to think twice before launching coups against civilian governments.

The army, which stepped back from politics after Musharraf's ouster, would be loathe to be dragged into the controversy, but  generals, having backed Musharraf's actions in 2007, would not want to see their old chief humiliated, according to analysts.

Opening proceedings on Wednesday, Chaudhry received no response when asked who was present to represent Musharraf.

"We haven't received any notice so far and once we get it then we will decide whether to appear before the court or not," Saif Ali Khan, a member of Musharraf's legal team, told Reuters by telephone from London.

Musharraf, who came to power in a military coup in 1999, had previously voiced both his intention to defend himself and his expectation of a fair hearing from a court headed by the judge who became his nemesis.

An attempt to dismiss Chaudhry in March 2007 precipitated the political crisis that led to Musharraf's downfall.

President Asif Ali Zardari would eye Musharraf's case warily.

It was only after an amnesty granted by Musharraf's national reconciliation ordinance in October 2007 that Zardari and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto were able to return to Pakistan without fear of prosecution in old graft and other criminal cases.

Zardari reluctantly restored Chaudhry as Chief Justice in March to save his own presidency, after political rival Nawaz Sharif threatened to bring a mass protest to Islamabad to champion the cause of an independent judiciary.

Attendance of the Supreme Court is not mandatory, but the court had warned Musharraf he would lose his chance to defend himself for using sweeping powers to purge the Supreme Court of judges who were questioning the legality of his re-election in October 2007 by a pliant, outgoing parliament.

Musharraf, who had become a valued ally of the United States in the fight against al Qaeda and was making peace with nuclear-armed rival India, argued at the time that his actions were taken for Pakistan's sake due in part to the Islamist militant threat.

The imposition of emergency rule and dismissal of Chaudhry and other judges triggered nationwide protests and unleashed a wave of support for two former prime ministers, Sharif and Bhutto, who had been living in exile until late 2007.

Musharraf resigned last August in the face of an impending impeachment motion, and Zardari took over the presidency a month later. In May Musharraf left Pakistan for London, where his purchase of an apartment has drawn considerable comment from a hostile Pakistani media. - Reuters




Tags: Pakistan | Musharraf |

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