Pakistan reinstates judge to ease political tensions


Islamabad : Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Monday reinstated the country’s sacked top judge ahead of a showdown with opposition parties and defiant lawyers that threatened the stability of the country.

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The announcement was made by Gilani in a televised address to the nation.

Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was sacked by former military strongman Pervez Musharraf, would take over as chief justice of the Supreme Court Saturday, immediately after the present top judge retires.

The reinstatement of Chaudhry came as tens of thousands of people were heading toward Islamabad to hold a sit-in for an independent judiciary that they vowed to continue until Chaudhry was reinstated.

The rally, dubbed the “Long March” and headed by two-time prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, was called off immediately after the government announced the restoration of the deposed chief justice, Aaj television reported.

Asif Ali Zardari, who replaced Musharraf, initially had promised to reinstate the sacked top judge but did not do so, turning himself into an unpopular political figure.

The demonstration, which started Sunday from the eastern city of Lahore, triggered fears of civil unrest in Pakistan, a key battleground in the international fight against terrorism, raising concerns in Washington and other Western capitals, which have intervened to defuse Pakistan’s political tensions.

“I announce the restoration of Mr Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and all sacked judges on their posts,” said Gilani, who sought reconciliation with the opposition parties.

The former chief justice and his colleagues had been sacked in November 2007 under emergency rule proclaimed by then-president Pervez Musharraf and immediately before they were to rule in a case involving Musharraf.

Chaudhry’s removal triggered a mass movement against Musharraf, resulting in the defeat of his political allies in last year’s elections and ending his nine-year military rule.

Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, held meetings with Gilani and Zardari late Sunday and reportedly pressed the two leaders for a deal to avert instability.

Nabeel Gabool, a member of Gilani’s cabinet, attributed the apparent detente to “America, army and Allah.”

The prime minister also indicated a reversal of a court ruling that barred Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, from elected office and dismissed their party’s provincial government in Punjab.

The United States welcomed the Chaudhry’s restoration. “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,” said a statement released by US embassy in Islamabad.

“Now is the time for all Pakistanis and their political representatives to work together, with the support of their friends and allies, to peacefully strengthen their democracy and ensure a positive dialogue as they move forward to deal with the many issues confronting them,” it added.