High Hopes For Pakistan's Restored Chief Justice

One of the last cases Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry was working on when he was fired two years ago by Gen. Pervez Musharraf dealt with the missing. The families of those detained by security services and about whom nothing has been officially heard are hoping Chaudry, who resumed the bench Tuesday, will pick up where he left off.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. Pakistan's popular Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has returned to courtroom number one. His recent reinstatement took two years of demonstrations by lawyers and opposition activists. Chaudhry was fired in 2007 by then-President Pervez Musharraf, who had seized power in a military coup. Chaudhry had challenged many of Musharraf's autocratic decrees.

The current President Asif Ali Zardari promised repeatedly to restore Chaudhry, but it took the threat of a mass march on the capitol for him to make good on that promise. As NPR's Anne Garrels reports, Chaudhry's return is the end of one battle, but it's likely the beginning of many more.

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ANNE GARRELS: Dozens of lawyers and activists cheered and threw rose petals as the chief justice returned to the Supreme Court. Policemen broke into smiles.

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GARRELS: Day laborers standing on the court roof burst into applause. There are huge expectations this maverick will resume where he left off, defend the rights of the ordinary man and speed up and clean up a broken judicial system. Tahira Abdullah, a civic activist, fought long and hard for Chaudhry's return.

Ms. TAHIRA ABDULLAH (Civic Activist): There are human rights cases, women's rights cases, environmental rights cases, wrongful urban development cases. There are so many things which are still pending, quite apart from the political, the high-profile political cases.

GARRELS: Those political cases are likely to include challenges to Musharraf's indemnity from prosecution, as well as an amnesty given current President Zardari on corruption charges. Petitions were immediately filed today challenging the appointment of dozens of judges. Following the example of Musharraf and using the same questionable emergency powers, President Zardari has continued to stuff the courts with pliable political appointees.

In his first comments on the job, Chaudhry asked lawyers to help uncover judicial corruption. Chaudhry has a reputation for taking on the powerful. Retired General Talat Masood says the benefits of taking on these controversial issues far outweigh the potential risks.

General TALAT MASOOD (Retired, Pakistani Army): So many wrongs have been done. That is very much possible that an independent judiciary might bring to forth all these injustices. So, yes, it's possible that there would be a lot of tension. But this would be in the right direction because, after all, you want things to be corrected.

GARRELS: One of the last cases Chief Justice Chaudhry was hearing before he was fired involved hundreds of missing Pakistanis, and he resumed that investigation today. Many are believed to have been detained by the intelligence services or handed over to the U.S.

Amina Janjua's husband, Masood, is one of those who vanished into the country's secret prisons. She's convinced Chaudhry will now find him.

Ms. AMINA JANJUA: I'm very, very happy that now it's going to be a matter of only weeks that my husband will be home.

GARRELS: You believe that?

Ms. JANJUA: I believe this.

GARRELS: Like many who've disappeared, Masood was highly educated. He ran a college, a travel agency and a charitable institution. He was deeply religious, but Amina says he had no links with Islamic militant groups.

Ms. JANJUA: It was a big mistake, terrible mistake.

GARRELS: Iqbal Haider is director of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission. He says Pervez Musharraf used the excuse of fighting terror to illegally detain a range of government opponents. He says he did what no other Pakistani dictator had done before.

Mr. IQBAL HAIDER (Director, Pakistan Human Rights Commission): Every general, every dictator, every marshal administrator arrested, as I have been arrested more than 12 times, but my family knew. I knew what are the charges. What, why, and they all knew where I'm kept.

GARRELS: Iqbal Haider wants the U.S. role in all of this clarified.

Mr. HAIDER: I want to know directly from the United States, are you really doing it and is it being done under your instructions?

GARRELS: By day's end, the rose petals outside the Supreme Court had wilted, but Pakistanis are pinning their hopes on this one man to embolden others and usher in a new era.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Islamabad.

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