Pakistan High Court Rejects Judge's Suspension

Pakistan's Supreme Court reinstates Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was suspended in March by President Pervez Musharraf on charges of misconduct. Musharraf's move was widely criticized and sparked pro-democracy efforts.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne.

Pakistan's supreme court today reinstated the country's top judge. It's a blow to President Pervez Musharraf. The court ruled that the president's suspension of the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was illegal. Chaudhry was suspended in March on charges of misconduct. But many saw the move as politically motivated. Demonstrations over Chaudhry's ouster ballooned into the biggest political crisis in Musharraf's nearly eight years of military rule.

NPR's Philip Reeves is at the supreme court in Islamabad. He joins us now. Philip, what does this ruling mean for President Musharraf and for Pakistan?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, it's being seen as a blow to the credibility of President Musharraf. He is a military ruler, and he is used to getting his own way in such matters. But here is a case in which he has been defied, not only by the entire legal community of Pakistan but by a significant sweep of the mainstream opposition political parties, virtually all of them. And they have won this case. And so that will be perceived as a political blow to Musharraf, a significant one at a time when he's already immersed in a number of problems on other fronts, not least of which is the battle against Islamist violence, Islamist extremism.

WERTHEIMER: How did this get to be a big political issue that - could it even possibly endanger Musharraf?

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

And therefore, they see it as a significant step in the legal process of preventing Musharraf from running as president by getting the vote of the present national and local - provincial legislatures while keeping his job as army chief of staff. They want him to come out of uniform. And they will see this as the important moment in which their hand, as it were, has been significantly strengthened by the support of the supreme court in this case.

WERTHEIMER: Is the chief justice a symbol of law in Pakistan or could he be a political rival for General Musharraf?

REEVES: He has become a symbol of political opposition to Musharraf in the last four months, which have seen some remarkable things. He traveled the country in a convoy. In one case, when he went to Lahore, it literally took him 24 hours to get there from Islamabad, a journey that's usually four hours, because his convoy was so swamped with people. So he became a kind of lightning rod for opposition. But he is fundamentally a legal figure. He's a judge and has refrained from joining in directly and openly with any given, identifiable political antidote.

WERTHEIMER: Phil Reeves, thank you very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Philip Reeves reporting from Islamabad.

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