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Thursday, October 14, 1999 Published at 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK

World: South Asia

Army faces constitutional dilemma

Opposition supporters celebrate the coup - but the next step is not clear

By Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad

Pakistan currently has no government and is in a political vacuum.

The army is hesitating, apparently because it wants to be sure that any government it installs will be politically stable and legally defensible.

Pakistan in crisis
The generals know that at some stage in the future they might be required to justify their actions in court.

The author of Pakistan's 1973 constitution, Hafiz Pirzada, says they might be able to rely on the doctrine of necessity.

Constitution 'made coup possible'

He says that the moment Nawaz Sharif amended the constitution and removed the power of the Pakistani president to dismiss the prime minister, a coup was always a distinct possibility.

Hafiz Pirzada talks to the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones
"About two years ago, or three years ago, I had cautioned that if you take that power away you make a political change impossible and therefore you will be opening the way for military interventions."

But whatever the background to the coup, the general's immediate problem is the possibility of a treason charge.

Popular mandate

The senior military leadership has been consulting constitutional lawyers to see what protection it can be given.

Mr Pirzada believes the army may be able to rely on the fact that the Pakistani public seems to have accepted that Mr Sharif should have been ousted.

[ image: Popular sentiment may determine the army's course]
Popular sentiment may determine the army's course
There have been no demonstrations either in his favour or against the military.

"In the final analysis, when this matter is adjudicated upon or debated in the Supreme Court, I think that the turning point will be whether the people of Pakistan have accepted this action and recognised its necessity," says Hafiz Pirzada.

And he says if there is no popular reaction against the coup, "probably the court will be influenced to uphold it".

Parliamentary option

One possibility being discussed by the political elite now is that the ruling party and members of parliament, could meet and vote to remove Nawaz Sharif from prime ministerial office.

But the army has no way of knowing if enough Muslim League MPs are prepared to abandon their leader.

The fact that General Musharraf has not imposed military rule so far suggests that it is not his preferred option.

But the time is fast approaching when he has to take some decisions and to tell the Pakistani people what plans he has for the future of their country.

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