High Court Reinstates Pakistan's Top Judge

Jubilant lawyers surround the reinstated chief justice. i i

Jubilant lawyers surround reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry inside his residence in Islamabad. Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
Jubilant lawyers surround the reinstated chief justice.

Jubilant lawyers surround reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry inside his residence in Islamabad.

Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan's Supreme Court has reinstated Pakistan's top judge, ruling that his suspension by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the nation's president and military ruler, was "illegal."

Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry's March 9 suspension had sparked protests by lawyers and opposition parties that have grown into a powerful pro-democracy movement just as Musharraf faces a rising tide of Islamic militancy.

The verdict is a major blow to Musharraf's standing and probably the biggest challenge to his dominance since he seized power in a coup in 1999. It could further complicate his bid to win a new five-year presidential term this fall.

"It's being seen as a blow to the credibility of President Musharraf," NPR's Philip Reeves reports from outside the courthouse in Islamabad. "... a significant one at a time when he's immersed in a number of problems in other fronts, not the least of which is a battle against Islamist violence."

Could this endanger Musharraf's control of Pakistan?

"It might," Reeves says. "He still has the support of the army as far as we know. But the people who support the chief justice, be they lawyers or be they members of the opposition, are saying right now that they see this as a significant moment in establishing an independent judiciary."

Opponents want to prevent Musharraf from running again for president next year while keeping his job as army chief of staff.

"They want him to come out of uniform," Reeves says. "They will see this as an important moment in which their hand ... has been significantly strengthened by the support of the Supreme Court."

Might Chaudhry become a rival for the presidency?

The chief justice "has become a symbol of political opposition to Musharraf," Reeves says. "But he's fundamentally a legal figure. He's refrained from joining in directly and openly with any given, identifiable political entity."

— From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Pakistan's Musharraf Faces Growing Pressure

Gen. Pervez Musharraf on July 7, during a visit to the flood-hit town of Usta Mohammad. i i

Gen. Pervez Musharraf on July 7, during a visit to the flood-hit town of Usta Mohammad. Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images
Gen. Pervez Musharraf on July 7, during a visit to the flood-hit town of Usta Mohammad.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf speaks to media representatives as former prime minister Zafarullah Jamali looks on during a visit to the flood-hit town of Usta Mohammad on July 7.

Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. i i

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, following a London news conference in October 2006. Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, following a London news conference in October 2006.

Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images

As deadly violence continues to expose potential instability in Pakistan, the nation's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is coming under increasing political pressure.

The impact of a ruthless conflict between Islamist extremists and Pakistan's government can be seen at a hospital in Islamabad — the same hospital that just 21 months ago was full of victims of South Asia's worst earthquake in living memory.

The current disaster is manmade.

The hospital's occupants include people injured by fighting during the siege at Islamabad's Red Mosque, which ended in an attack by government forces.

Patients include victims of the militant backlash to the Red Mosque bloodbath.

And they include Mohammed Rashid, a shopkeeper who lies in a small, stuffy ward alongside a few other people who were peppered by shrapnel.

Rashid says he was crossing a road in Islamabad on Tuesday evening, near a crowded outdoor rally for Pakistan's suspended chief justice.

A bomb exploded, flattening Rashid and shattering his lower leg.

More than 100 Pakistanis have been killed — and many more injured — within less than a week in one militant attack after another.

Many of the victims have been soldiers and police in the northwest.

Rashid says Musharraf's government needs to think about all this.

On the other side of town, more advice is being handed out to Musharraf and his generals.

Top brass from Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party are addressing the media.

The PPP is thought to be Pakistan's most popular opposition party. Some of its workers were killed in Tuesday's blast. Now the PPP is turning up the heat on Musharraf.

Mian Raza Rabbani, a senior party leader, says the party wants a civilian government of national consensus to be set up, paving the way for elections.

"We do not envisage a political role for the armed forces of Pakistan, and as far as Gen. Musharraf is concerned, I think he has played his innings," Rabbani says.

Musharraf has been in serious political trouble since suspending Pakistan's chief justice in March. The surge of militant attacks is compounding the crisis.

Instability is growing, and so are predictions that Musharraf plans to impose a state of emergency.

There has been pressure on the general to make a deal with Bhutto that would allow free elections but would let Musharraf stay on as president — though not as chief of the army.

Bhutto has been talking to Musharraf's aides.

But her supporter Rabbani says those talks are not about allowing Musharraf to stay on.

"We have not been talking about a power-sharing equation," Rabbani says. "We have been talking about a transfer of power to the elected representatives held under free and fair, transparent elections."

But Musharraf's opponents have a problem. The general doesn't think his innings are over.

He told a group of Pakistani newspaper editors Wednesday that he wants another term as president, seeking reappointment before the elections from Pakistan's current national and provincial parliaments, where he has enough votes to win.

And he wants to remain army chief of staff. But, he said, he will not declare a state of emergency.

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