Saturday, March 21, 2009

Iftikhar Chaudhry returns Sunday as Pakistan's chief justice

Islamabad: It will be sweet revenge for Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry as he returns Sunday as Pakistan's chief justice, 18 months after then president Pervez Musharraf removed him from office.
Chaudhry assumes office on the retirement Saturday of Abdul Hameed Dogar, who had replaced him Nov 4, 2007 after Chaudhry refused to take fresh oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) that Musharraf had promulgated along with an emergency a day before.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who had been dragging his feet on restoring Chaudhry and the 60-odd Supreme Court and high court judges whom Musharaf had also sacked, finally gave in Monday after a lawyers' protest led by opposition leader Nawaz Sharif threatened to spin out of control.
Observers here say one of Chaudhry's first acts on resuming office would be to review three judgements by the Dogar-led Supreme Court validating the emergency Musharraf had declared. This apart, he could order a reexamination of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that Musharraf promulgated in 2007 granting immunity from prosecution in corruption cases to slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, her husband Asif Ali Zardari, and scores of politicians. The NRO had enabled Bhutto and Zardari to return home from exile.
Then, there is the government appeal against last month's Supreme Court verdict barring Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from contesting elections.
That judgement had led to the fall of Shahbaz Sharif's government in Punjab and the imposition of governor's rule in the province.
The elder Sharif has accused Zardari of having a hand in the judgement.
The government decision on the appeal came Monday, when it also gave in on the judges' reinstatement.
For Chaudhry, the wheel has come full circle.
Musharraf had appointed Chaudhry the country's 20th chief justice May 7, 2005 but fell out with him less than two years later and suspended him March 9, 2007.
This was after Chaudhry refused to go slow on his judicial activism by taking up issues like rising prices and privatisation.
Musharraf also made a presidential reference against Chaudhry on grounds of misconduct but the latter fought back and was reinstated July 20, 2007.
In October that year, Musharraf won a controversial re-election and the Supreme Court opened a hearing on its validity.
It was on the point of delivering a verdict that was expected to go against the president when Musharraf imposed an emergency to prevent this.

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