President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan suffered a fresh blow to his precarious position today when the supreme court ruled that an amnesty protecting him from corruption charges was null and void.
The main opposition party called for his resignation on moral grounds only hours after the ruling, but Zardari's office said he had no intention of stepping down.
The ruling paves the way for legal challenges against Zardari at a time when he is deeply unpopular because of public perceptions that he is being too compliant with the US. The Obama administration has been pressing Islamabad to crack down on al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents using sanctuaries in Pakistan to launch operations against Nato forces in Afghanistan.
The court's ruling also leaves thousands of officials, including ministers loyal to Zardari, vulnerable to renewed corruption cases.
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There are four major players:
1. Pervez Musharraf, former Chief of Army Staff and President.
2. Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister.
3. Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto and current President.
4. Iftikhar Chaudhry, current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Background: Musharraf declared himself the ruler of Pakistan following a coup in 1999. Bhutto was Prime Minister twice, once in the late 80s and then in the mid 90s. She and her husband racked up a number of corruption charges for which she exiled herself to Dubai, while Zardari served jail time for 8 years.
2005: Chaudhry begins butting heads with Musharraf over the fact that he was still the Chief of Army Staff and President at the same time, something that was legally dubious. He also questioned Musharraf's tactics of holding people without charges as terrorism suspects.
Early 2007: Musharraf removes Chaudhry on charges of misconduct, which causes protests and violence across the country. He is reinstated a few months later by the other members of the Supreme Court.
Oct 2007: Facing pressure and plummeting ratings, Musharraf decides to invite Bhutto back into the country. He plans to retire his uniform and continuing to serve as President, while Bhutto becomes Prime Minister. Crucially, he signs the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which drops previously standing charges against politicians. This allows Bhutto and Zardari to return to politics.
Nov 2007: There is talk that Musharraf's legitimacy as president is going to be challenged. Just before he suspects that the court is going to rule against him, he declares a state of emergency in the country and places Chaudhry under house arrest.
Dec 2007: Bhutto is assassinated in Karachi on December 27.
Early 2008: Zardari becomes Prime Minister in a general election. Zardari reinstates Chaudhry as Chief Justice, although it takes time for him to return in full capacity.
Mid 2008: Under threat of impeachment, Musharraf resigns from the Presidency. After another general election, Zardari becomes President of Pakistan.
Most of 2009: With an unstable, transitioning government - a vacuum is created for the Taliban to enter and commit acts of terrorism that have killed about 2000 civilians and 1000 security personnel this year.
December 16, 2009: The NRO is declared null and void. Zardari's legitimacy is under question and he is under pressure from other political parties to resign.