In a fence-mending move, Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has finally met Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the man who had bitterly opposed his reinstatement to the post he had been sacked from two years ago.
The 20-minute one-to-one meeting took place on Friday evening ahead of Zardari swearing in Justice Agha Rafiq Ahmed Khan as the chief justice of the Federal Shariat Court.
"The two never came face to face ever since the restoration of the chief justice because of the latter’s reluctance but President Zardari turned the opportunity of a handshake into a historic meeting,” The News reported on Saturday.
No details were made available of what transpired during the meeting, after which a statement was issued saying: “Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry called on President Asif Ali Zardari here on Friday at the Presidency. The meeting was held before the oath-taking ceremony of Justice Agha Rafiq Ahmed Khan as Chief Justice Federal Shariat Court.”
Chaudhry had twice previously avoided meeting Zardari. The first was when the president hosted a dinner for outgoing chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar and the second was when he resumed office March 22.
Then president Pervez Musharraf had sacked Chaudhry and the entire Supreme Court bench after they refused to take fresh oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) that the military strongman had imposed along with an emergency Nov 3, 2007.
The sackings had angered Pakistan's lawyers who took out a bruising “long march” to Islamabad in mid-2008 to demand their restoration, but to no avail.
Another 'long march' was staged in March and this time, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif also jumped on the bandwagon - to protest a Supreme Court ruling barring him and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif from contesting elections or holding public office.
Largely at Zardari's insistence, the Pakistani government held out till the very last minute, capitulating March 16 as the protesters reached Islamabad - and after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had read the president the riot act.
Chaudhry and the other sacked judges were restored and the government appealed the verdict against the Sharif brothers, which was overturned last month.
Chaudhry maintained that he did not have to take a fresh oath as he had been illegally sacked and that the previous oath he had been administered, was still valid. Thus, since he was merely returning to his job, he did not have to pay a courtesy call on Zardari.
The judges issue had soured relations between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), of which Zardari is the co-chair, and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) who had formed a coalition after their one-two finish at the February 2008 general elections.
The two parties, in their governance agenda formulated by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Zardari's late wife, and Sharif, had agreed on restoring the sacked judges, as also on repealing a controversial constitutional amendment Musharraf had forced through to transfer key executive powers from the prime minister's office to the presidency.
Zardari's back-pedalling on the two issues had prompted the PML-N to walk out of the coalition.
Addressing a joint session of parliament March 28, Zardari announced that the constitutional amendment would be repealed.