Friday, July 20, 2007

Pakistan's courts reinstate chief justice, blocking Musharraf's attempt to remove him

Musharraf may not have much longer as president:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's highest court dealt President Pervez Musharraf the biggest political blow of his eight years in power, blocking the U.S.-allied general Friday from removing the country's chief justice.

The surprise decision to throw out Musharraf's case against the jurist spurred new demands from democracy campaigners that the president step down, clouding his future just as Pakistan faces a surge in violence by Islamic militants.

Recent fighting had overshadowed the judicial dispute, and the ruling likely will ease public anger over the ouster, at least for now. Musharraf said he would respect the decision, but analysts said Pakistan could be in for turbulent times if he sticks with his drive to stay in power.

In its landmark ruling, Supreme Court judges ruled unanimously that Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry be restored to his post and voted 10-3 to quash charges of misconduct that the president filed against the justice before a separate judicial tribunal.


Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who lives in exile, called the ruling one of the most remarkable judgments in Pakistan's history and said it weakened Musharraf politically. She said the movement to support Chaudhry had become a "struggle against dictatorship, (for the) restoration of the Constitution and for supremacy of the Parliament."

There has been speculation Bhutto was considering joining her Pakistan People's Party with Musharraf in a new coalition government, but political analysts said the ruling could scuttle that idea.

"I have real doubts whether Benazir Bhutto would jump onto a sinking ship," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political science professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences. "But even if that happens, it will be temporary relief because any measure by the president will be challenged in the Supreme Court."

He predicted judges emboldened by Friday's decision would torpedo Musharraf's plan to continue as military chief and get a new presidential mandate from the outgoing parliament and also block any attempt by the president to impose a state of emergency or martial law.

Musharraf has been embattled since he suspended Chaudhry on March 9, accusing the judge of using his rank to secure a police job for his son and enjoying unwarranted privileges such as the use of government aircraft.

While the government insisted the case had no political motive, critics suspected Musharraf wanted to remove an independent-minded judge before the legal challenges are made against his effort to retain power.

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