- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

ISLAMABAD (AP) - For two years, Pakistani lawyer Imran Safdar regularly clashed with police, staged hunger strikes and walked off his job to pressure the country’s rulers to reinstate the deposed Supreme Court chief justice.

On Monday, the 33-year-old joined a more joyful demonstration after learning he and other activists had been successful. Hundreds gathered outside the chief justice’s house in Islamabad, cheering, chanting and playing music to celebrate the news of his reinstatement.

“I cried. I was stunned. I was wordless,” said a sweat-soaked Safdar, wearing the trademark black and white lawyer’s suit. “We have sacrificed ourselves. We have damaged our businesses. We faced state fascism!”

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s announcement that Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry would be sworn back in on March 21 headed off a political crisis that threatened to destabilize a government facing a teetering economy and rising Islamist violence. Lawyers called off plans to converge in the capital and stage a sit-in at the Parliament later Monday.

The U.S. _ which wants Pakistan to stay focused on battling al-Qaida and the Taliban along the Afghan border _ praised the move as “statesman-like.” But it also was seen as a significant concession that demonstrated the weakened status of President Asif Ali Zardari.

Gilani also promised the restoration of a handful of other judges who had remained off the bench since former President Pervez Musharraf sacked them in 2007. He further ordered the release of activists arrested in recent days. Those arrests and other moves to block the protests _ which led to clashes over the weekend _ echoed Musharraf’s clampdown on the lawyers in 2007.

Sharif thanked Zardari and Gilani after the announcement, but signaled his seemingly strengthened position by focusing on the future.

“From here, God willing, the fate of this nation will change,” Sharif said. “From here, a revolution will come.”

Musharraf fired Chaudhry in 2007 after he took up cases challenging his rule, sparking a wave of protests that helped force the military ruler from office in 2008. Zardari has reneged on promises to restore Chaudhry, apparently fearing the justice might examine a deal that gave Zardari and his wife, slain politician Benazir Bhutto, immunity from prosecution over alleged corruption.

Zardari aide Farahnaz Ispahani said the ruling party leaders “recognized the mood of the people.”

“Instead of weakening the government or the president or prime minister it has actually strengthened the government,” Ispahani insisted. “We have taken the issue away from those who wanted to use mob violence and intimidation. We have taken the country out of the political crisis in an extremely mature and political way.”

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that Sharif and his brother Shahbaz were ineligible for elected office. Zardari then dismissed the government led by Shahbaz in Punjab, the most powerful Pakistani province. Sharif, who had long supported the return of the judges, urged his supporters to join the lawyers’ planned march on the capital, re-energizing the movement.

Gilani repeated a pledge made Saturday to appeal the verdict over the Sharif’s eligibility to the Supreme Court.

The Zardari-Sharif showdown raised the prospect of a military intervention in a country prone to army coups. The powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, met with Zardari as the crisis unfolded, though officials would not detail their discussion.

Lawyers and activists interviewed Monday said they would be watching the government carefully to make sure it honored its word and did not try to undermine the judiciary.

“If the government makes a mockery, if it deceives us, if it cheats us, we are not ready to surrender an inch!” declared Safdar.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Pakistan’s reinstatement of a fired Supreme Court chief justice will allow Islamabad to return its attention to the crucial fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants operating along the Afghan border.

Clinton, who called both Zardari and Sharif over the weekend to press for a resolution, said Pakistan’s decision was “a first step of what has to be an ongoing reconciliation and compromising of political views that can stabilize civilian democracy and rule of law.”

She said both are essential to “preventing extremism and violence from stalking the Pakistani people and the country.”

Asked if the political turmoil was distracting Pakistan from the fight against extremists, Clinton said, “I think they understand what’s at stake.”

American officials consider Pakistani stability critical to staving off the militant threat in Afghanistan.

In a reminder of that threat, militants early Monday torched vehicles and supplies meant for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, the second such assault in northwest Pakistan in two days. Taliban attacks have raised doubts about the reliability of critical supply routes through Pakistan, prompting the U.S. and NATO to seek alternatives.


Associated Press writers Babar Dogar in Lahore, Zarar Khan in Gujranwala, and Chris Brummitt, Munir Ahmad and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide