- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

ISLAMABAD (AP) - Pakistan’s Supreme Court chief justice retired Saturday, opening the way for the restoration of a judge ousted by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf and championed by opponents of the current pro-Western government.

Abdul Hameed Dogar stepped aside because he reaches the retirement age of 65 on Sunday. Dogar was sworn in as chief justice after Musharraf declared emergency rule and purged the court in 2007 to halt challenges to his plans to extend his rule.

Musharraf was eventually pushed from office by a coalition that trounced his supporters in 2008 elections, denounced the emergency, and vowed to restore the ousted judges, who had become symbols of a movement to restore democracy.

However, new President Asif Ali Zardari balked at bringing back independent-minded Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry until opposition parties and activist lawyers threatened mass protests in the capital last week.

The return of Chaudhry, who formally resumes his duties Sunday, eased a political crisis that threatened to paralyze a government already struggling to tackle rising Islamist militancy and serious economic problems.

The government relented only after pressure from the United States and Britain, which worried that Pakistan would be unable to focus on combating Taliban and al-Qaida militants involved in the spiraling Afghan insurgency.

Chaudhry’s return is highly sensitive because of the dubious legality of a string of measures enacted under Musharraf, including a pact that quashed long-standing corruption cases against Zardari and his late wife, slain former leader Benazir Bhutto.

Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has said Musharraf himself should face treason charges. Musharraf, who ousted Sharif’s government in a 1999 coup, had him jailed on terrorism charges and then sent him into exile, has acknowledged that the 2007 emergency was unconstitutional.

At a farewell dinner for Dogar on Friday, Zardari said the past should be forgotten.

“It is time to look forward and build on what has been achieved,” Zardari said, according to a transcript of his remarks released by his office.

Zardari said his ruling party believed Pakistan’s institutions should “gain strength through evolution and continuity.”

“Our vision may not have been shared by all. Some were even critical. This is the price leaders have to pay,” he said.

Political tensions are still running high because of a Supreme Court ruling last month that disqualified Sharif and his politician brother Shahbaz from elected office because of convictions dating from Musharraf’s rule.

Zardari promptly dismissed the administration in Punjab, Pakistan’s biggest and wealthiest province, which had been led by Shahbaz Sharif, and put in under federal control.

While the government has appealed the court ruling, it has also plunged into wrangling with Sharif’s group, as well as a bloc of former Musharraf supporters, over the shape of a new ruling coalition in the province.

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