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Musharraf's Emergency Rule Illegal, Pakistan Court Rules

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All across the country, black-suited lawyers congregated around television sets. The decision they were waiting for was still being argued, but the air was already bustling with celebration. Victory signs were being waved. Sweetmeats were placed close by. Everyone's expectations were pinned on the proceedings in Courtroom 1.

The minutes stretched, turning into hours. News anchors struggled to fill in gaps between coverage that was heavily focused on the anticipated breaking news. Four hours after the expected time, a visibly excited TV host made the announcement.

"The Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared the November 3rd, 2007 actions of former president Pervez Musharraf extra-judicial, illegal and unconstitutional."

The lawyers broke into revelry.

When Pervez Musharraf used his power as an army chief to suspend the constitution in November 2007, he probably could not have imagined this day would ever come. The reason was simple. Others before him had done the same, and had never had to answer for it. Just seven years into Pakistan's creation, the military had dismissed nine provincial governments. Between 1951 and 1958, Pakistan had seven prime ministers. A famous joke was that the government in Pakistan changes as often as one changes clothes. Each time, the Supreme Court played along.

One of the rationales provided for this frequent army intervention so early into Pakistan's creation was that the country's survival was at stake against neighboring India. A weak, corrupt, and squabbling civilian government, it was said, could place the country at risk. Overtime, a culture of military supremacy developed. And like a self-fulfilling prophecy, democratic parties were never able to deliver even when given a chance. At the brink of each failure, the army lurked, ready to shove the government off the stage, ready to impose Martial Law.

This is the first time the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, decided to put an end to this cycle.

It is still early to predict the ramifications of the court's decision, announced this Friday evening. Some analysts shrug it off as a non-news, something Musharraf had himself long acknowledged. Others hope it could lead to a trial of high treason against the former president as a case in point for future military adventurists. It is also said that the decision could lead to political drama for the current president, Asif Ali Zardari, by reopening the National Reconciliation Ordinance for review before the parliament--the NRO, which grants indemnity to Zardari against corruption cases, was issued by Musharraf, suspended by Chaudhary and revived by the new post-Nov 3rd chief justice.

Musharraf did not appear in court to defend his actions, and neither did he send a counsel. In an interview to a TV channel, Aaj, aired a couple of days before the court's decision, he was asked about the possibility of a trial against him. "My heart and mind are very clear. I have done nothing wrong for my sake, so I would face the trial, as it is part of the legal system of Pakistan," he said.

In another interview to an Indian channel CNN-IBN, he said, "One has to face realities on (the) ground and I will face them. I am not a man who runs away from realities. Let them bring law suits and (try to) prove anything against me."

There is certainly no dearth of people who want to do just that. As Musharraf sits in London, a Pandora's Box of accusations and grievances has opened up in Pakistan against him.

"We will mobilize all constitutional, legal, parliamentary and political forums to get Musharraf tried," said one PML-N Senator, Pervez Rashid, to The News, a national newspaper. "We will not let him off the hook."

The grandson of slain Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti is also seething, ready to register a police report against Musharraf for his grandfather's death. Meanwhile, a team of UK lawyers has approached a human rights law firm that "previously acted in the prosecution of Chile's military dictator General Pinochet" to give advice on the "legality of Musharraf's actions," Dawn News reported.

Anyone who follows Pakistani politics knows that there are as many twists as the number of political pundits out there, so it is hard to say what course these events and statements will take.

But one thing is for sure. The court decision is an epic symbolic gesture. It has restored the institution's relevancy after decades of subjugation. It has raised the common man's hope in seeking justice for his own causes. It has given the constitution of Pakistan some semblance of respect, a constitution that one military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, famously called "nothing more than a piece of paper he could rip whenever he wished."

This is part of HuffPost's Spotlight On Pakistan. Eyes & Ears and HuffPost World are building a network of people living in Pakistan who can help us understand what is happening there. These individuals will send us reports -- either snippets of information or full-length stories -- about how the political crisis affects life in Pakistan. This is an opportunity to have a continued conversation with Americans about what's happening in your country. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

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