FOR a country under military rule for more years than civil administration since its independence, Pakistan still has a strong and apparently independent judiciary. Yesterday its Supreme Court ruled by nine votes to six that President Musharraf is eligible for re-election despite remaining as army chief. The case was brought by opposition leaders who immediately alleged that the judges had been intimidated by the military. President Musharraf's name will joins 42 others for the presidential election which takes place on October 6. An Election Commission will vet these names for eligibility and publish a final list on Monday; the election itself is decided by members of national and provincial legislatures.

The odds must now be on President Musharraf to get a further five-year term, an outcome that would be very welcome in Washington DC where he is thought to be the only person capable of keeping Pakistan on a fairly even keel and pursuing campaigns against the Taleban and militant Islamists. But whether his re-election would lead to restoration of a measure of civilian government is still unclear. Musharraf has said that he will take off his uniform if he is re-elected and there has been talk of the return of Benazir Bhutto from exile to resume the leadership of her Pakistan People's Party in forthcoming parliamentary elections. However, in another legal hurdle, she would need a constitutional amendment to enable her to seek election as prime minister for a third time.