/ 29 July 2009

Musharraf snubs Pakistan Supreme Court

Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday ignored a summons from Pakistan’s top court to explain his decision to impose a state of emergency and controversially sack judges two years ago.

The Supreme Court, headed by recently reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, issued notice to Musharraf to provide testimony as it investigates the decision that ultimately led to the ex-president’s downfall.

But neither Musharraf, who lost power last year and has been a vocal critic of the current Pakistani administration, nor a lawyer on his behalf addressed the session Wednesday, said an Agence France-Presse reporter.

“Is somebody appearing on behalf of general Musharraf?” asked Chaudhry to a resounding silence in the courtroom.

Malik Qayyum, who was attorney general under Musharraf and present in court, did not rise. Musharraf is understood to be in Britain.

But one leading Pakistani lawyer brushed aside the significance of both the summons and the no-show on Wednesday.

“Musharraf will not be handed down any punishment if he fails to appear before the court,” former deputy attorney general under Musharraf, Raja Abdur Rehman, told Agence France-Presse.

The purpose of the summons was for the former ruler, or a lawyer on his behalf, to explain his position on issues being examined by the court.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, sacked Chaudhry and dozens of other senior judges in 2007, fearing that the chief justice would disqualify him from contesting a presidential election while in military uniform.

Senior lawyer Hamid Khan told the court it was the mindset of the former military ruler, who was a key ally of former United States president George Bush in the “war on terror”, to treat the Constitution merely as a piece of paper.

“The purpose of proclaiming emergency rule and deposing the judges was meant to prevent a judgement from the 11-judge bench which was hearing the disqualification case,” Khan told the court.

“All actions, including the imposition of a state of emergency, were in fact an attack on the judiciary and aimed to save the skin of one individual.”

The Supreme Court chief justice said it was “unique” in world history that “martial law” was imposed in a country to curb the judiciary.

Musharraf was replaced last year as Pakistan’s president by Asif Ali Zardari, whose party won general elections and who reinstated Chaudhry and his fellow judges in March following a protracted political crisis.

Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and lawyers organised a march on the capital Islamabad, demanding that Zardari reinstate the judges, during mass protests last March that risked further destabilising the nuclear-armed country.

Under Western pressure Zardari conceded to defuse the standoff with Sharif, who had urged the masses to rise up against the government. — AFP