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Is democracy 'reborn' in Pakistan?

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"There is a thin line between being proactive and getting involved in politics," says Senator Ranjha. "I hope we don't come to a stage where there is constant pressure on the courts – from people and politicians. The judiciary needs to be impervious to all kinds of pressure. Otherwise the entire system would be in danger of collapsing."

Several cases that are now in front of the Supreme Court, and others that may appear in the near future, will soon indicate how independent the judiciary is willing to be. The Supreme Court's verdict on a few of these cases may also set the tone for Pakistani politics in the near term.

This weekend, opposition parties announced their plans to file a constitutional petition against Musharraf to challenge both his right to simultaneously hold his Army post while seeking the presidency and the constitutional legitimacy of his seeking a third consecutive term as president.

Exiled former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto, of the left-leaning Pakistan People's Party, and Mian Nawaz Sharif, of the nationalist Pakistan Muslim League, are also planning to petition the Supreme Court to guarantee their safe return to the country to run against Musharraf in presidential elections this fall.

A disastrous judicial history

When it comes to dealing with military dictators like Musharraf, Pakistan's judiciary has a half century history of rulings that have tilted the political power dynamics in favor of the military.

The Supreme Court has legitimized military rule three times since independence – in 1958, 1977, and finally in 1999 when Musharraf seized control. In 1958, the court used a legal device known as the "doctrine of necessity," which is essentially a legal lifeline for the Constitution to guarantee the document's survival in the face of extraconstitutional regime changes.

But as a result of the Supreme Court's repeated acquiescence to the executive, it has been generally perceived as subservient to the Pakistani Army.

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