Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pakistan to Reinstate Chaudhry as Supreme Court Chief Justice

In an effort to diffuse political tensions in Pakistan, Prime Minister Gilani has ordered the long overdue restoration of Ifitkhar Muhammad Chaudhry as Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court effective Monday.

Gilani has also ordered the release of opposition leaders and other political activists jailed who had been protesting against the government of Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari for refusing to restore Chaudhry.

Chaudhry was dismissed by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in November 2007. Chaudhry had fallen out of favor with Musharraf because Chaudhry was likely to declare that he would be ineligible to run again for President. Chaudhry also got tough with Musharraf's over the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills.

The Pakistan People's Party (led by Ali Zardari after the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (led by former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) formed an alliance based in part on the restoration of Chaudhry and other justices. However, Zardari did not follow through on the promise because he feared Chaudhry would relaunch corruption investigations against Ali Zardari. Musharraf had agreed to drop any investigation against Ali Zardari to pave the way for Bhutto's return from exile in 2007.

The situation escalated when earlier this year the Pakistani Supreme Court (packed with Musharraf appointees) a) declared Sharif ineligible to run for office and b) removed Sharif's brother Shahbaz as Chief Minister in the province of Punjab. It was further escalated last week when Sharif and other opposition leaders were placed under house arrest when they planned a "Long March" to protest governmental actions.

Needless to say this has caused considerable unrest in Pakistan. When you consider that Pakistan had just given the Swat over to the Taliban their actions against Sharif and Chaudhry seem heavy handed and a mirror image of Musharraf.

One can only hope that this will calm things for the time being but that is being optimistic. The Obama Administration will breathe a sigh of relief but they shouldn't take a deep breath. Given that Sharif's hand has been strengthened he will no doubt seek opportunities to further weaken Ali Zardari and Gilani. Unless Sharif bides his time, becomes eligible to seek office once again and wins fair and square this will result in one of three things:

a) Pave the way for the return of Musharraf.

b) The military takes control the government.

c) The Taliban along with help from al Qaeda will take the reins of power.

None of those options (especially scenario c) would be good for Pakistan much less the civilized world.

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