- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani chief justice whose ouster sparked political turmoil called for an end to judicial corruption upon returning to court Tuesday, a day after the president — who had long blocked the judge’s reinstatement — reached out to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the capital remained tense after a suicide bombing killed an officer at a police station housing intelligence facilities — a reminder of the militant threat to this shaky, U.S.-allied nation.

Supporters of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry threw rose petals on his car as it entered the Supreme Court compound. Chaudhry technically resumed his position Sunday, the day after the justice who had replaced him retired.

At the start of his first hearing, Chaudhry thanked Pakistanis for supporting his restoration but warned that the population often viewed the courts as corrupt.

“Lawyers should help us end corruption,” he said. “You should point out those cases in which you see elements of corruption. It is a must for justice to end corruption first.”

The judge is likely to face strong scrutiny, especially in politically sensitive cases.

In a sign of the challenges ahead, a petition filed Tuesday requested that the government pursue treason charges against former President Pervez Musharraf, whose firing of Chaudhry in 2007 spawned a major protest movement.

A separate petition asked the justice to invalidate the appointments of judges made during his absence. The chief justice is supposed to be consulted on judicial appointments, and many in the legal community believe Chaudhry’s ouster was illegal.

Agitation over Chaudhry’s fate had riveted Pakistan but worried Western allies who feared it would distract the country from battling al-Qaida and the Taliban. Their fighters are believed to have established bases where they plan attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

President Asif Ali Zardari, in a message on Pakistan’s national day Monday, asked feuding factions to put aside their differences.

“I urge everyone to work in the spirit of tolerance, mutual accommodation and respect for dissent and invite everyone to participate in the national effort for national reconciliation and healing the wounds,” Zardari said.

Zardari’s message was one of several in recent days from the ruling party urging peace with the opposition, which had demanded that Chaudhry be reinstated.

The prime minister visited the home of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif in a goodwill gesture.

The reconciliation attempts come amid wrangling over which political parties will join forces to control the most powerful province, Punjab. They could also be a way to raise support for Zardari, whose reluctance to bring back Chaudhry damaged his standing.

Zardari’s aides had claimed the judge had become too politicized to return, but many believe the president is worried Chaudhry will examine a deal that has provided him protection from prosecution on corruption claims.

In his message, Zardari urged Pakistanis to uphold the “independence of the judiciary.”

“Let us on this day also resolve to fight the tendency to have one set of laws for the privileged and another for the unprivileged,” the president said.

The extremist threat hit the capital late Monday when a man detonated explosives at the gate of the police station housing offices of the Special Branch, whose duties include intelligence gathering about terrorism and sectarianism in Pakistan. An officer who apparently challenged the bomber died in the blast, Interior Ministry secretary Kamal Shah said.

Islamabad is one of the calmer, more secure cities in Pakistan, but it has not escaped violence. Last September, a deadly suicide truck bombing at the Marriott Hotel in the capital killed more than 50 people.

Associated Press Writer Munir Ahmad contributed to this report.

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