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ISLAMABAD, Dec 15: President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday lifted the emergency, repealed the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) and revived the 1973 Constitution after effecting amendments through presidential decrees.

Chief Justices and judges of the Supreme Court, high courts and Federal Shariat Courts took the oath again shortly after the order — officially called the Revocation of Proclamation of Emergency Order 2007 —was notified by the Cabinet Division.

The order provides a blanket cover to the president against any challenges to his re-election, proclamation of emergency order of Nov 3, introduction of the PCO and all actions taken from Nov 3 to Dec 15.

The move is aimed at validating all actions taken under the PCO, particularly the reshuffle in the superior judiciary, and amendments made to the Constitution through presidential decrees.

However, some legal experts are of the view that once a new parliament is elected, a debate may re-open about the need to introduce a constitutional amendment to give indemnity to all actions of President Musharraf during the emergency, including the very proclamation of emergency and sacking of superior court judges who had not taken the oath under the PCO.

These legal experts say that if amendments to the Constitution were possible through decrees, neither Gen Ziaul Haq would have introduced the 8th Amendment nor would have Gen Musharraf gone for a deal with the MMA to get the 17th Amendment passed by the NA to indemnify all actions taken since the military coup of October 1999.

However, Law Minister Syed Afzal Haider said that all the presidential orders passed during the emergency to amend the Constitution provided a blanket cover to the president and there was no need for any indemnity from the parliament.

“Supra-constitutional steps do not need any validation from the parliament,” he told a Press conference.

“Today is a big and rather thanks-giving day as the 42-day emergency rule, the shortest in the history of Pakistan, has been lifted,” the minister observed, adding that this was the first step towards restoration of democracy.

“President Pervez Musharraf has lifted the emergency today at 1.30pm by revoking the proclamation of emergency, repealing the Provisional Constitution Order, restoring the 1973 Constitution with amendments and restoring fundamental rights.”

The revocation of the Proclamation of Emergency or the repeal of the Provisional Constitution Order shall not affect any right, privilege, obligation or liability acquired, accrued or incurred under the Proclamation of Emergency, the Provisional Constitution Order and the Oath of Office (Judges) Order 2007.

Justifying recent amendments to the Constitution, the caretaker minister highlighted that not a single provision in the Constitution required validation of measures done through “extra-constitutional steps”, adding that changes like the 8th or 17th Amendments were just “ceremonial”.

In reply to a question about the future of superior court judges who did not take oath under the PCO after the restoration of the Constitution, the minister said: “I cannot say anything”, adding that they ceased to hold their respective offices. Besides, he said, the president had also promulgated Judges (Pensionary Benefits) Order 2007 under which even those judges would be entitled to pension who had not completed a mandatory period of five years in service as a judge. This had been done purely on humanitarian grounds, he claimed.

The minister was evasive on the question of detention of deposed judges and some senior lawyers. All he said was that the caretaker government had released 5,754 political workers, lawyers and students.

“I was not in the cabinet when emergency was enforced,” the minister said in reply to a question about the objectives.

Agencies add: With just three weeks to go before elections, analysts and opponents say the lifting is unlikely to quell deep discontent over his handling of a political crisis that erupted when he took on the Chief Justice of Pakistan in March.

Critics insist that the amendments and the weeks of emergency mean the vote cannot be free or fair.

“Musharraf’s so-called return to constitutional rule provides legal cover to laws that muzzle the media and lawyers,” Ali Dayan Hasan, of US-based activist group Human Rights Watch, said.