NYT : Musharraf Rebuked as Pakistan Court Reinstates Judge

Friday, July 20, 2007

Musharraf Rebuked as Pakistan Court Reinstates Judge

By MIKE NIZZA | July 20, 2007

The nation’s chief justice was unexpectedly reinstated today by the Supreme Court in a case that has fueled national protests and posed a serious challenge to President Pervez Musharraf.

The “order of restraining the chief justice is illegal and without lawful authority,” the court said in Islamabad, according to Bloomberg News.

Outside the court, lawyers rejoiced. “He has been restored and it is a victory for the entire nation,” said a lawyer for Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, The Associated Press reported. Lawyers also celebrated in Lahore and Rawalpindi.

In a statement issued by the state-run news agency, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz accepted the ruling: “The Constitution and the law have prevailed and must prevail at all times.”

General Musharraf suspended Mr. Chaudhry on March 9 for alleged misconduct, including interference in provincial court proceedings and arranging a government position for his son.

Mr. Chaudhry denied the charges and asked a panel of 13 Supreme Court justices to take up an appeal. Ten of them supported today’s decision.

He also began delivering speeches to large crowds across the country, building a following that represented the greatest challenge to General Musharraf’s rule since he seized power in a coup in 1999.

In recent weeks, General Musharraf faced an even bigger challenge from the other side of the political spectrum when religious radicals seized the Red Mosque. A standoff lasted several days, leaving at least 102 dead, including 11 members of security forces. Adding to the crisis, the government’s truce with militant groups in North Waziristan unraveled in the process.

Since then, government forces have been the target of apparently retaliatory attacks by radicals as well.

In an example of the complex political strife in Pakistan, a suicide bombing at one of Mr. Chaudhry’s protests was blamed by some on a government conspiracy against the chief justice and by others on an Islamist plot against another speaker.

Mr. Chaudhry, 58, was expected to hear several cases that could significantly inhibit General Musharraf’s claim to the posts of president and army chief of staff. With the full set of challenges before him, General Musharraf has vowed to refrain from imposing emergency rule and to hold elections on time next year.