ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERD. I'm Robert Siegel.
Opponents of Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf are celebrating. The country's supreme court has ordered that the chief justice must be reinstated. Musharraf suspended the judge four months ago, triggering Pakistan's most serious political crisis since the general seized power in a coup in 1999.
NPR's Philip Reeves has been following the case and was at the court today in Islamabad.
PHILIP REEVES: This was a rare moment in Pakistan's 60-year history. If supreme court judges aren't known for defying military rulers, today, they did so. Supporters of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry were ecstatic.
(Soundbite of cheers)
REEVES: An extraordinary scene is here at Pakistan's Supreme Court. The verdict has just come through. And it was greeted with a huge cheer, and now shouts, from the crowd of supporters of the chief justice. They're making they're message very clear. It's go, Musharraf, go.
They've been dreaming of this since March. That was when Musharraf and his intelligence chiefs tried to oust Chaudhry. The judge refused to resign. Suspended from duty, Chaudhry traveled the country accompanied by crowds and supporters and TV cameras. Opposition political parties joined his bandwagon. What started as a campaign for reinstatement became a pro-democracy movement. Addressing a public seminar a few weeks back, Chaudhry made sure Musharraf got the message.
Mr. IFTIKHAR CHAUDHRY (Chief Justice, Pakistan Supreme Court): Lord Acton said, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
REEVES: Kashif Malik(ph) was on the judge's legal team. He sees today's verdict as his start.
Mr. KASHIF MALIK (Iftikhar Chaudhry's attorney): This is the best possible under the circumstances, and this is the best that we could have hoped for, we could have worked for. The best possible for the country, and it is going to go along with towards the rule of law and the independence of judiciary.
REEVES: Like much of Pakistan's legal community, Ayesha Malik's(ph) been campaigning for the judge's reinstatement since the beginning.
Ms. AYESHA MALIK: I feel like flying in the sky. I just feel out of this world, you know? I feel like we will be holding definitely grand, grand celebration.
REEVES: Chaudhry was accused of misconduct, including using his influence to secure a government job for his son - allegations the court today rejected.
His supporters believe Musharraf had different reasons for trying to dump him. They think the general was worried that Chaudhry might support legal challenges to his plan to be reelected this year as president while remaining army chief.
Iqbal Haider of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission says Chaudhry was getting a reputation for raising issues, which were awkward for the government, such as the fate of scores of people thought to be held in secret by Pakistan's intelligence services.
Mr. IQBAL HAIDER (Secretary-General, Pakistan's Human Rights Commission): Our constitution do not condone or authorize any authority to kidnap and abduct missing persons.
REEVES: And the chief justice was showing - he's showing...
Mr. HAIDER: While showing his concern for human rights. And that is what Pervez Musharraf should have appreciated.
REEVES: Today's verdict comes at a difficult time for Musharraf. A lot of Pakistanis are upset by the many deaths that occurred during the storming by government forces of Islamabad's Red Mosque, whose clerics were trying to impose Sharia law. The backlash to the mosque assault has produced a wave a of suicide bombings, mostly in the northwest where militancy is spreading.
Political commentator Ayaz Amir says today's decision is a blow for Musharraf. But he advises against writing him off.
Mr. AYAZ AMIR (Political commentator, Pakistan): And as long as he remains head of the army and the army is saluting him and his corps commanders are behind him, he remains a power to be reckoned with. But he is a stricken, beleaguered, weakened person, and there must be very dark thoughts swirling in his mind.
REEVES: So far, Musharraf's keeping such thoughts to himself, beyond issuing a brief statement saying he accepts the supreme court's verdict.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.
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