WaPo : Pakistan Supreme Court Reinstates Judge

Friday, July 20, 2007

Pakistan Supreme Court Reinstates Judge

Scores Killed in Suicide Bomb Attacks on Mosque, Academy, Convoy

By Griff Witte | Washington Post Foreign Service | July 20, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 20 -- Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday reinstated its ousted chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, dealing a political blow to the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, even as he confronts a developing military challenge from Islamist radicals.

The court ruled that Musharraf's March 9 suspension of Chaudhry was "set aside as being illegal" and ordered the judge resume his post -- a major victory for opponents of the U.S.-allied Musharraf.

Before his removal, Chaudhry was reviewing and preparing to rule on several cases challenging Musharraf's plans to orchestrate a new five-year term for himself before upcoming parliamentary elections. Although the Musharraf government accused Chaudhry of misconduct, critics charged the removal was part of the president's plan to retain power.

It is unclear how Chaudhry will proceed with the election cases now that he is reinstated to the Supreme Court -- or how Musharraf, leader of the country since a 1999 military coup, will respond.

Chaudhry's sacking triggered widespread protests that evolved into a broader challenge of Musharraf's military rule and a call for democratic reform.

Amid celebration outside the courtroom, Chaudhry's lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, called the ruling "a victory for the entire nation," the Associated Press reported.

The country's prime minister accepted the ruling and was quoted by the state-run press service as calling for calm and national unity.

"We must all accept the verdict with grace and dignity reflective of a mature nation," said Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the AP reported. "This is not the time to claim victory or defeat. The constitution and the law have prevailed and must prevail at all times."

The struggle between the two branches of government comes amid a mounting wave of violence that has gripped the country in recent days. On Thursday, insurgent attacks spread to new parts of the country and featured more ferocious tactics, with suicide bombers targeting a mosque, a police academy and a convoy of Chinese engineers in attacks that killed more than 50 people.

The strikes yielded the highest single-day death toll since the government stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad last week. More than 120 people died during the standoff at the mosque, and more than 160 have been killed in the attacks that have followed.

The severity of the violence has stunned Pakistanis. It also has left the country groping for direction as the military, pro-democracy moderates and Islamic extremists vie for control in a struggle that appears likely to intensify. The military has vowed a fresh offensive and is moving troops into position, while extremists have declared jihad against Musharraf, and his government.

An attack Thursday at a mosque during evening prayers killed at least 18 people, including three children, heightening the sense of disarray. Police officials said a suicide bomber had mingled among the worshipers before detonating his charge.

Suicide attacks inside mosques are relatively rare in Pakistan. The mosque targeted Thursday is located on an army base in the northwestern town of Kohat, and many of the casualties were army recruits, police officials said.

Earlier in the day, a convoy of Chinese engineers being escorted through southern Pakistan by security forces was rammed by a car bomber and then pelted with gunfire in a crowded market area. The attack, in the southwestern province of Baluchistan and hundreds of miles from all of the previous incidents, claimed 30 lives. While the Chinese escaped unharmed, seven police officers were killed and the rest of the dead were believed to be civilians.

The day's violence began with a suicide strike at a police academy in the northwestern town of Hangu, where seven people were killed.

Thursday was the fifth consecutive day of deadly attacks. Most have been suicide bombings, but the targets have varied widely, with the victims including security forces, political activists and civilians.

The string of attacks follows the collapse over the weekend of a 10-month-old peace agreement between the government and tribal elders in the North Waziristan area along the Afghan border. U.S. officials have strongly criticized that deal, saying it gave al-Qaeda a haven to train and plot for attacks against the United States.

Retired Brig. Mehmood Shah, a former official in the tribal areas, said it is Pakistan that is getting the first taste of the terrorists' renewed strength.

"The lethality of the attacks has increased many-fold. They're well-coordinated," said Shah, who until 2005 was responsible for tribal area security. "The government painted a make-believe world about these tribal areas that did not exist -- that if you leave them alone, everything will be fine."

Now, Shah said, the government has little choice in how to react. "To get back in a strong position, you have to fight your way in," he said. "In the long run, there's no other way of dealing with the problem."

Sources in Pakistan's armed forces have said they are planning a major operation against extremist fighters and are readying troops and supplies. On Thursday, for the second straight night, residents of North Waziristan reported hearing shelling, though it was unclear who or what had been hit.

The United States has been prodding Musharraf to take a strong stand while providing the Pakistani military with intelligence to help with targeting, military sources said.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Tony Snow declined to rule out the possibility that the United States would carry out strikes in Pakistan.

"We never rule out any options, including striking actionable targets," he said.

Musharraf has been trying this week to rally his country to support him in countering extremism. But his reputation among moderates has taken a severe blow this year, following his decision in March to suspend the country's chief justice. Musharraf has also alienated democracy advocates by saying he wants to be elected to a new term by the outgoing parliament and prefers to stay in uniform.

Special correspondents Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar, Shahzad Khurram in Islamabad and Kamran Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.