End judicial corruption, says Pakistan chief justice

Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, whose ouster sparked political turmoil, called for an end to judicial corruption upon returning to his office today.

world Updated: Mar 24, 2009 16:59 IST

The Pakistani chief justice whose ouster sparked political turmoil called for an end to judicial corruption upon returning to his office on Tuesday, a day after the president, who had long blocked the judge's reinstatement, reached out to reconcile. Meanwhile, Islamabad remained tense after a suicide bombing killed an officer at a police station housing intelligence facilities _ a reminder of the militant threat to this shaky, US allied nation.

Supporters of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry threw rose petals on his car as it entered the Supreme Court compound.

Chaudhry technically resumed work on Sunday, the day after the justice who had replaced him retired.

At the start of his first hearing, Chaudhry thanked Pakistanis for supporting his restoration but warned that the population often viewed the courts as corrupt.

"Lawyers should help us end corruption," he said. "You should point out those cases in which you see elements of corruption. It is a must for justice to end corruption first."

Agitation over Chaudhry's fate following his 2007 firing by former President Pervez Musharraf has riveted Pakistan but worried Western allies who feared it would distract the country from battling Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

President Asif Ali Zardari, in a message on Pakistan's national day on Monday, urged feuding factions to put aside their differences. "I urge everyone to work in the spirit of tolerance, mutual accommodation, and respect for dissent and invite every one to participate in the national effort for national reconciliation and healing the wounds," Zardari said.

Zardari's message was one of several in recent days from the ruling party urging peace with the opposition, which had demanded that Chaudhry be reinstated.

The prime minister visited the home of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif in a goodwill gesture.

The reconciliation attempts come amid wrangling over which political parties will join forces to control the most powerful province, Punjab. They could also be a way to raise support for Zardari, whose reluctance to bring back Chaudhry damaged his standing.

Zardari's aides had claimed the judge had become too politicised to return, but many believe the president is worried Chaudhry will examine a deal that has provided him protection from prosecution on corruption claims.

In his message, Zardari urged Pakistanis to uphold the "independence of the judiciary."

"Let us on this day also resolve to fight the tendency to have one set of laws for the privileged and another for the unprivileged," the president said.

The US and other Western allies of Pakistan want the nuclear-armed nation to stop the feuding and focus on the fight against terror. The West is especially keen on Pakistan cracking down on militants in its northwest, where Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters are believed to have established bases where they plan attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The extremist threat hit the capital late on Monday when a man detonated explosives at the gate of the police station housing intelligence offices. An officer who apparently challenged the bomber died in the blast, Interior Ministry secretary Kamal Shah said.

Islamabad is one of the calmer, more secure cities in Pakistan, but it has not escaped violence. Last September, a deadly suicide truck bombing at the Marriott Hotel in the capital killed more than 50 people.

The police station targeted houses the offices of the Special Branch, which is responsible for intelligence gathering about terrorism and sectarianism in Pakistan.

First Published: Mar 24, 2009 16:53 IST