The outcome of the Pakistan general elections on 25 July can only be a matter of conjecture at this juncture. Whether or not Imran Khan eventually pips the rest to the post in the electoral stakes, the scenario has become still more confusing since Thursday when the Supreme Court withdrew its order allowing Pervez Musharraf to file nomination papers; the former Army chief and President chose not to show up at the court hearing.

The apex judiciary’s turnaround comes the day after it had wondered aloud ~ tongue firmly in cheek ~ as to what prevents a former commando from returning to his country. Though Musharraf has filed his nomination from Chitral, the fact remains that he has not abided by the directive to appear in person at the Lahore registry of the Supreme Court.

Reports suggest that Musharraf’s lawyers had insisted on security ~ an imperative that theoretically is the executive’s prerogative, and not the judiciary’s. “The Supreme Court is not bound to Musharraf’s terms,” the Chief Justice, Mian Saqib Nisar, had observed after the former President’s counsel had insisted on blanket guarantees for his security.

“We’ve already said that if Musharraf returns, he will be provided with security. We are not bound to also provide a written guarantee in this regard. If he doesn’t return, the scrutiny of his nomination papers will not be permitted,” Justice Nisar had warned. There is criticism already that the Supreme Court is taking action and issuing “executive orders” directly, and thus exceeding its remit.

Indeed, the court’s handling of Musharraf’s participation in the elections and his return from Dubai reaffirm the perception that it is graduallly emerging as a crucial player ~ in addition to the military ~ in politically bankrupt Pakistan. A fairly dramatic change when contextualised with the subjugation of the judiciary, pre-eminently of the Chief Justice, during the Musharraf era.

With nothing that is definite about his return, the nomination paper will remain a non-starter as must be the candidature of the former President. The setback is the individual’s as much as the party’s. A four-member bench of the apex court, headed by the Chief Justice, is hearing Musharraf’s appeal against his 2013 disqualification by the Peshawar High Court.

Disqualified too is the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who suffered yet another setback of sorts last Thursday when his lawyers pulled out of the case. With the PML(N) rudderless and Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League floundering in search of its moorings, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the Bhutto family appears to be on a relatively steady wicket, and also of course Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

If the former cricketer does make it to the Prime Minister’s crease, going by current speculation, it will be largely by default. Given his political inexperience and cordial relations with the Army chief, this might sound uncharitable but nevertheless is true. To the Rawalpindi GHQ, he may yet be a safe bet within the disoriented political class.