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Zardari backs down, judges reinstated

world Updated: Mar 17, 2009 01:40 IST
Kamal Siddiqi
Kamal Siddiqi
Hindustan Times
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Iftikhar Chaudhry was propelled by a mass of agitating lawyers, political activists and former PM Nawaz Sharif to his rightful position as the chief justice of Pakistan in the early hours of Monday.

In a swift response to the surprising change of tack by President Asif Ali Zardari, Sharif, who had set off on a ‘long march’ from Lahore to Islamabad on Sunday, ended the agitation and declared victory. “We have got the fruit of our two-year struggle,” the PML-N chief told supporters after ending the march.

Following intense pressure mounted by Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani and the United States, PM Yusuf Raza Gilani announced in a televised address that Chaudhry and other judges sacked in November 2007 would be able to resume their duties.

As Pakistan celebrated people’s power, Chaudhry described his re-instatement as a “great success” for the two-year-long agitation led by the country’s legal community. He will resume office on March 21.

Top lawyer Aitazaz Ahsan told this correspondent that for the chief justice to be able to work, he must have the cooperation of the government. “We appeal to the government to cooperate with the chief justice and not create hurdles for him,” Ahsan, who led the lawyers’ struggle, said.

Information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government acted to avoid a confrontation with other political parties.

Analysts believe that the role of the Army in persuading Zardari and Gilani to restore Chaudhry and other deposed judges was critical. “This was not done directly,” said defence analyst Ikram Sehgal.

While the Pakistan Army has made no public comment on Monday’s development, a series of meetings between the President, the PM and the Army Chief, General Kayani, indicates that there were active inputs from the armed forces.

“The army was also concerned about the deteriorating law and order situation and the possible consequences of any confrontation in the capital,” said a ruling party MP, who preferred to remain anonymous.

In all this, the question remains as to whether the chief justice and the president would be able to arrive at a working arrangement. “We will have to see the fine print of the agreement,” said Zohra Yusuf, a human rights activist.

In defence of her party, PPP MP Fauzia Wahab said that the ruling party had agreed to the reinstatement and would now work towards it. “If we wanted a confrontation, we could have had it today. But better sense prevailed. From now on the political climate will improve significantly.”

Washington, meanwhile, welcomed Chaudhry’s reinstatement. “This is a statesmanlike decision taken to defuse a serious confrontation, and the apparent removal of this long-standing national issue is a substantial step towards national reconciliation,” the US said in a statement.