New Delhi: In a judgment that challenges President Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistan Supreme Court on Friday reinstated suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.
Musharraf had suspended Chaudhry in March this year for allegedly misusing his position and benefiting financially from his office.
â€œThe reference has been set aside and the chief justice has been reinstated,â€ Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday, the head of the 13-member bench, said at the conclusion of the two-month-old case.
The court also invalidated the presidential reference against Chaudhry. While the reinstatement order was unanimous, the verdict about the invalidation of the presidential reference was a 10-3 majority decision.
Chaudhry’s March 9 suspension had sparked protests by lawyers and opposition parties that grew into a powerful pro-democracy movement.
Chaudhry became a symbol of resistance to Musharraf after refusing to quit in the face of pressure from the President and his intelligence chiefs, and was lionised by supporters in rallies round the country.
The Chief Justice’s defiance created the greatest challenge to Musharraf since he came to power in a coup eight years ago, and his reinstatement could create problems for Musharraf’s plans for re-election for a second five-year term in the coming months.
Lawyers in court stood and clapped as the decision was read, while shouts of “Go, Musharraf, Go” resounded among the throng of supporters for the Chief Justice gathered outside.
Musharraf’s move against the judge sparked a nationwide lawyers’ movement to defend the judiciary’s independence and handed opposition parties a hot issue in an election year. On a number of occasions pro-Chaudhry protests have turned violent.
At an attempt to address a rally of lawyers in Karachi on May 12 about 40 people were killed when pro-government activists clashed with opposition supporters hoping to welcome Chaudhry to the city.
In recent days, Musharraf appeared to have tried to mollify the court. While government lawyers had diluted the case against Chaudhry, Musharraf had gone on record to promise that he will accept whatever the court decides.
However, it seems that the adverse verdict could be politically damaging for Musharraf.
It may not result in his immediate exit, but could lengthen the shadows around a President seen as determined to cling on to power no matter what the cost to his nation.
Past tense in Pakistan
The charges against Chaudhry included using influence to get his son a job, fiddling petrol expenses and that he had a penchant for expensive cars.
The government filed a statement in the court last month in which it also accused Chaudhry of harassing judges, showing bias in appointments and intimidating police and civil servants.
Musharraf’s real motive for trying to get rid of Chaudhry, many critics suspect, was that the judge could allow constitutional challenges to his plans to get re-elected by current assemblies before they are dissolved for a general election at the end of the year.