President Pervez Musharraf has never shown any sign of weakness since forcing his way to power in a military coup in 1999. But protests by lawyers over his removal of the country's top judge do not augur well for the strongman. Many believe this marks the beginning of the end of the Musharraf era. 'The judiciary seems to be breaking the shackles this time and this year seems to be the last year of Musharraf,' former foreign minister Asif Ahmed Ali said. Some believe General Musharraf sacked the judge to ease the way for re-election this year, which the constitution prohibits. He faces increasing pressure from the US to hold transparent elections, restore democracy and do more to tackle the Taleban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. 'The US keeps mounting pressure on Musharraf with reference to the Taleban and al-Qaeda but they still need him to counter the radical elements in Pakistan's security establishment,' said Moonis Ahmer, professor of international relations at Karachi University. But he does not rule out the potent threats to General Musharraf amid ongoing agitation, which could snowball into an even larger movement. 'The government is not legitimate and his allies are also not so politically strong so dangers are certainly lying ahead, and this year could be a crucial one for his eight-year long rule,' Professor Ahmer said. Mr Ali sees the year end as a decisive one. 'To me the government will land in a constitutional minefield by the end of the year when a liberated judiciary will not ratify Musharraf's re-election bid,' he said.