ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani pledged yesterday to restore deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry and end a crackdown on activists.
Main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif welcomed what he called a historic achievement and promptly called off a “long march” that was to lay siege to the centers of power in the capital.
Gilani’s climb-down, in a dawn address to the nation, followed talks with President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to end political uncertainty. “I announce today that Iftikhar Chaudhry and all other deposed judges will be reinstated from March 21, when the current chief justice retires,” Gilani said.
Zardari has come under massive domestic and foreign pressure to defuse a standoff with Sharif, who urged the masses to rise up against the government to demand that judges sacked by former President Pervez Musharraf be reinstated.
To further ease tension, Gilani said his government had decided to file a petition against the Feb. 25 Supreme Court ruling that banned Sharif and his brother Shahbaz from contesting elections.
“It is a historic day, a great day which will change the country’s destiny,” said Sharif from inside his car in Gujranwala, were he was showered with rose petals and mobbed by a sea of jubilant supporters. “Today, the nation has received very happy news. We had said that we will restore the independent judiciary, and by the grace of Allah, we have achieved it,” he said. “We are now calling off this long march,” Sharif said, following discussions with lawyers and political allies, including Imran Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad.
Gilani also overturned a repressive government clampdown designed to foil the “long march,” ordering authorities to release all those arrested and declaring the immediate lifting of a ban on public demonstrations. “I want to congratulate the nation. Let us celebrate this with dignity,” said Gilani.
The prime minister later called lawyers’ leader Aitzaz Ahsan and “congratulated him on the restoration of deposed judges.”
The United States welcomed Gilani’s announcement as a move to “defuse a serious confrontation” and a “substantial step toward national reconciliation,” in a statement issued by its embassy in Islamabad.
But a spokesman for Chaudhry sounded a note of caution. “There have been so many broken promises in the past. A lot of mistrust has been created. We have to see the official notification,” Athar Minallah told reporters, stressing repeatedly that he was only expressing his own opinion.
“It’s the first time in the history of Pakistan that a movement launched by the middle class has proved successful,” said retired judge Tareq Mehmood.
Jubilant supporters waved flags and cheered outside Chaudhry’s home, and the grinning jurist briefly made an appearance on the balcony.
“No country can progress without an independent judiciary and the government — by restoring the chief justice and other judges — has also realized it, and we think it is a big success,” said Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association chief Ali Ahmad Kurd.
Chaudhry was dismissed by Musharraf on Nov. 3, 2007, along with 60 other judges, 53 of whom have since been reinstated. The former military ruler feared the judges would declare him ineligible to contest a presidential election while in military uniform. He first fired Chaudhry in March 2007, but the judge was reinstated on a Supreme Court appeal.
Courtesy: Arab News