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Pakistan’s new coalition split over fired judges

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ISLAMABAD: A powerful clique within the Pakistan People’s Party, which leads the government, is attempting to remove Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from the coalition’s commitment to restore the judges, under pressure from the President and, it is claimed, the United States. Globeandmail.com claims that Mr. Musharraf, considered by Washington to be a key ally in the anti-terrorism fight, has described Chief Judge Chaudhry as the “scum of the earth” and it is believed that the two men could not co-exist.

Globe and mail add Critics point out that Mr. Zardari may not be keen to bring back the activist chief justice, whose courts had started a probe into the amnesty before he was fired. It is a group of PPP figures considered close to Mr. Zardari, including party treasurer Babar Awan and Law Minister Farook Naek, that are thought to be quietly promoting the plan to sideline Chief Judge Chaudhry. An article on the website says Mr. Zardari had a dispute with Aitzaz Ahsan, a senior PPP colleague who is also the leader of the lawyers, before a stunned meeting of the party earlier this month, in which Mr. Zardari reportedly lambasted the record of the dismissed judges.

The fate of Pakistan’s judiciary is tearing at the country’s fragile democracy, with the new governing coalition at odds on the reinstatement of the judges fired last year by President Pervez Musharraf. nThe leaders of the coalition are due to meet tomorrow in what could be a make-or-break summit on the judges’ issue. It is not a dry constitutional debate: last week a clash between lawyers and members of a pro-Musharraf political party in the southern city of Karachi left at least 10 dead.

One plan promoted by some within the PPP would see Judge Chaudhry reinstated, but then retire almost immediately through the introduction of new rules about the tenure of chief justices. Such a move would technically fulfill the pledge to bring back all the judges removed by the President last November, but any such move risks putting the government at war with the country’s lawyers, who have backed Judge Chaudhry and have proved in the past year to command real street power.

It would also put enormous pressure on the other big political party in the coalition, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, to walk out of the government after they made the judges the centrepiece of their election campaign. “The Pakistan People’s Party is reluctant to restore the judiciary,” said Zafar Ali Shah, a vice-president of the Nawaz League. “The sitting judiciary has given a lot of relief [to the PPP].”

After the forced exit of Judge Chaudhry and 60 independently minded Superior Court judges, a hand-picked new judiciary approved an amnesty that had been granted by Mr. Musharraf to politicians, which was tailored to help the PPP. As a result, Asif Zardari, who succeeded his wife, Benazir Bhutto, as leader of the PPP after her assassination in December, has had a series of charges dropped, including a murder case.

Before forming the government, the PPP and the Muslim League-Nawaz last month declared in a joint statement that “the deposed judges would be restored, on the position as they were on Nov. 2, 2007, within 30 days of the formation of the federal government through a parliamentary resolution”-SANA

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Rubab Saleemhttp://www.rubabsaleem.com
Rubab Saleem is Editor of Pakistan Times
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