ISLAMABAD – Political unrest in Pakistan has resulted in the reinstatement of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of that country’s Supreme Court. Chaudhry was awarded Harvard Law School’s highest honor, the Medal of Freedom, last year for his role in the Pakistani lawyers’ movement, which has been active in demanding the reinstatement of an independent judiciary. Overall, sixty judges were removed from the Pakistani bench by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007. Musharraf was forced to step down from his post late last year, and was succeeded by Asif Ali Zardari, who reinstated some but not all the judges – Chaudhry was one of the exceptions. The lawyers’ movement remained livid about the government’s failure to reinstate all judges.
The government recently moved to sideline the regional legislature of the Pakistani Punjab, a bastion of a major opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by Nawaz Sharif. The opposition leader responded by uniting his party with the lawyers’ protest against the Zardari government. Chaudhry’s reinstatement came as crowds of supporters assisted Sharif in escaping house arrest and marching toward Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. The move is largely seen as a step by Zardari to appease Sharif and the lawyers after an attempt to deploy the Pakistani security services in a crack down on the protesters failed over the weekend. Chaudhry will resume his place on the bench on March 21st, after the sitting chief justice, who had been installed by Musharraf, resigns.
Speaking at Harvard Law School last night, London-based Pakistani commentator Tariq Ali praised the development, calling it a rare bit of good news from the region. Lauding the Pakistan lawyers’ movement, he wondered why lawyers in the United States had not risen up against Bush administration practices that had been justified by the “war on terror”.