Reproduced from the Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2009
CLESEARCHQUERY_PARSER=bylineAND> ZAHID HUSSAIN
ISLAMABAD -- Thousands of Pakistanis celebrated the reinstatement of the
country's chief justice Sunday, stirring hopes for an empowered judiciary
that can buttress democratic rule in this turbulent nation.
Pakistanis chanted slogans during the National flag hoisting ceremony at the
residence of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.
The return of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry caps a
two-year movement by Pakistan's lawyers that helped bring down one
government and almost toppled a second. It is being viewed as a victory for
the rule of law and democracy in this country of 170 million people that is
struggling to overcome a Taliban insurgency.
"This could well turn out to be a seminal and transformational development
in the maturing of Pakistan's democracy," said Maleeha Lodhi, a former
ambassador to Washington and a political commentator.
How Mr. Chaudhry will preside over Pakistan's highest court is a pivotal
question for a nation often at the edge of instability. While supporters are
pressing to return the Supreme Court to the activist role that led to his
firing, others fear an over-assertive judiciary could lead to renewed
confrontation with the government.
The chief justice and dozens of other judges were fired during a brief
emergency rule imposed in 2007 by then-President Pervez Musharraf, a general
who took power in a coup eight years earlier.
Mr. Musharraf was forced out last year, months after his allies were badly
defeated in parliamentary elections by a coalition that campaigned in part
on restoring the judges.
But his successor, President Asif Ali Zardari, stalled on reinstating the
judges. Opponents said he feared Mr. Chaudhry would invalidate an amnesty
deal that saw corruption cases against Mr. Zardari dropped. The deal was
made between Mr. Zardari's late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto,
and Mr. Musharraf.
Mr. Zardari has insisted the chief justice had become too personally
politicized to preside over the top court. He reversed himself a week ago as
the lawyers' movement and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, a former prime
minister, prepared to lead thousands of people for a massive rally in
Mr. Chaudhry has so far remained quiet about his plans. On Sunday, he busied
himself with routine matters, such as approving panels of jurists, the court
said in a statement.
Supporters are urging Mr. Chaudhry to challenge the amnesty of the
politically wounded president. "Nothing can stop the court to take up the
petition challenging the amnesty granted to some political leaders," said
Aitzaz Ahsan, a leader of the lawyers' movement, which fought to have Mr.
Mr. Chaudhry could also reopen cases of people who have gone missing after
being detained on terror-related charges. Those hearings proved an
embarrassment to the government of Mr. Musharraf and may also raise
questions about Pakistan's cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against al
Qaeda and the Taliban.
Many are also waiting to see if he will remove himself from cases involving
political figures, such as Mr. Sharif. The Supreme Court, which last month
banned Mr. Sharif from holding political office because of prior criminal
convictions, is preparing to hear an appeal of the case.
Mr. Zardari, for his part, said he will respect the court. "I will bow to
the power and majesty of the judges," he said during the weekend at a
farewell dinner for the departing chief justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, meanwhile, had lunch with Mr. Sharif. Mr.
Gilani has suggested he wants Mr. Sharif to rejoin the coalition government,
which Mr. Sharif quit over Mr. Zardari's refusal to reinstate the judges.
There was no word of such a deal from the meeting, but Mr. Gilani said he
and Mr. Sharif agreed to end their standoff and work toward bringing
political stability to Pakistan.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A9