Pakistan’s top judge returns to court, urges end to corruption

March 24th, 2009 - 5:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Pervez Musharraf Islamabad, March 24 (DPA) Pakistan’s top Supreme Court judge held court Tuesday, more than 16 months after his dismissal by former military president Pervez Musharraf.
A crowd of jubilant lawyers dressed in black suits chanted slogans and threw rose petals as Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry arrived at the Supreme Court building with official protocol.

Chaudhry, 59, was reinstated by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani March 16 as lawyers and opposition political activists marched to the capital Islamabad for a sit-in.

Pakistan was gripped by mass protests since Nov 3, 2007, when then president and army chief Musharraf sacked Chaudhry and 60 other judges amid fears that they might undo his re-election.

The government’s surprise move last week warded off a showdown that could have thrown the nuclear-armed nation into a political turmoil.

Chaudhry effectively resumed office after Saturday midnight, but returned to work Tuesday, following the weekend and a national holiday Monday.

The respected jurist thanked God for the restoration of “original courts” and asked attorneys to help purge the judiciary of “endemic corruption”.

Chaudhry won plaudits for standing up to a military dictator and pursuing sensitive cases against the state in public interest.

But even on his return under a democratic government, the judge faces pressures on controversial issues, including ones that could alter the political balance.

Gilani’s government has already moved Chaudhry’s court to review a verdict that barred top opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, from public office.

Some opposition groups are also banking on Chaudhry to rescind a Musharraf law that cleared current President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, of graft charges.

Zardari replaced Musharraf as president after the former military strongman resigned in August 2008 under threats of impeachment.

Zardari repeatedly broke promises to reinstate Chaudhry, but finally gave in last week to defuse a potentially explosive political crisis that threatened the demise of his party’s government.

On Monday, he told the Sky News television channel that the climbdown on judge’s reinstatement had not weakened his presidency, a claim few analysts took seriously.

Pakistan’s shaky political situation, coupled with its struggling economy and growing insurgency, has set alarm bells ringing for the West, which considers the Islamic republic a linchpin in the fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

David Kilcullen, adviser to US Centcom commander General David Petraeus, recently told The Washington Post that Pakistan could collapse within six months, warning such a situation would “dwarf” all the crises the world faced today.

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