(Guardian) - Pakistan's supreme court today said it would move forward hearings on legal challenges to President General Pervez Musharraf's re-election last month.
The court had planned to resume hearings on November 12, three days before Gen Musharraf's current term ends. But Javed Iqbal, head of the 11-member bench hearing the opposition challenges, said the court had rescheduled the case because of the climate of political uncertainty.
The former prime minister Benazir Bhutto this week mentioned rumours that Gen Musharraf would declare emergency rule should the supreme court, which has been a thorn in his side, declare his re-election invalid. The opposition has challenged Gen Musharraf's landslide victory on the grounds that he should have first stood down as head of the army.
Ms Bhutto, who travelled to Dubai yesterday to see her husband and children, had talked of cancelling her trip amid fears that Gen Musharraf would assume emergency powers in her absence. His government has denied any such intention.
Mr Iqbal said efforts would be made to conclude the case in the shortest time.
"The court will not take any blame for the controversy being created," he said today.
The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, today said the Bush administration opposed emergency rule, and that elections should go ahead next year.
"I am not going to get into the details of our conversations but I think it would be quite obvious that the United States would not be supportive of extra-constitutional means," Ms Rice told journalists while en route to Turkey.
The US favours a power-sharing agreement between Gen Musharraf and Ms Bhutto, who survived a bloody assassination attempt in Karachi last month, to confront Islamist militants. But Ms Bhutto would find such an alliance impossible in the event of emergency rule.
In a deal with Gen Musharraf, Ms Bhutto, who has spent the last eight years in effective exile, agreed not to boycott the October presidential election. In return, the president signed an amnesty that cleared away corruption charges against her and all other political leaders - except for Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister who wants to return to politics.
For now, Gen Musharraf will have to wait for the supreme court's verdict. The court, which has assumed an increasingly important role in Pakistani politics, has not flinched from challenging the government.
In the latest show of defiance of Gen Musharraf, it rejected this week the government's decision to deport Mr Sharif when he tried to return to Pakistan in September. He wants to contest elections planned for early next year, further complicating Pakistan's political situation.
The court ordered the government to allow Mr Sharif to return home, saying his deportation violated an earlier court ruling. According to the court, the prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, made preparations in advance to prevent Mr Sharif's return from exile.
The court even admonished the chairman of Pakistan International Airlines for trying to conceal information about the incident.
In March, Gen Musharraf tried to sack the supreme court's chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry. But the move backfired when the court threw out misconduct charges against Mr Chaudhry and ordered him reinstated. Gen Musharraf emerged from the episode politically diminished.