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Jubilation at ruling on Pakistani judges

The reinstatement of the chief justice and others who campaigned against government corruption heralds a shift in Pakistani politics.


The two-year-old movement for the restoration of the judiciary, which swept through the streets, the courtrooms and halls of power of Pakistan, has little precedence in the country's history. The movement's leaders have said that an empowered judiciary is the missing link in Pakistan’s democratic process — a system that is ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world, which has been plagued by unworkable legislatures and where the army reigns supreme.

On paper, the courts have always been empowered in Pakistan — every military dictator in Pakistan has had to go to the courts for approval to rule. But in reality, the courts have also been corrupted and subservient to the army.

Chaudhry, his supporters maintain, is uncorrupted. He also led the Supreme Court bench in a decision to stand up to Musharraf and deny him presidential office. Had the court been permitted to carry through the ruling, the balance of power would have tilted away from the military. However, all judges who sided with the decision were immediately dismissed by Musharraf.

On Sunday, over the noisy celebrations in the night on Chaudhry’s front yard, Athar Minallah, a spokesperson for the judge, told the media that he hoped that the "doctrine of necessity" used by courts to justify military rule for five decades was "forever buried."

If so, Pakistan is likely to enter a period in which political power, presently divided between the army, the judiciary and the landed political elite, is about to be shared around, possibly even to the man on the street.

While America relies on Pakistan to help in the war in Afghanistan, a redivision of political power that encourages democracy may be welcomed in Washington. But it may also give all parties, including religious parties, more space, something America is still wary of.

Twenty-four hours after the announcement on Chaudhry, his front yard was still hosting a constant stream of lawyers and visitors waiting their turn to shake hands with "the chief," who will return to his position as the country's top judge on March 21.

Sardar Muhammad, a lawyer at the Multan High Court, pushed his way out of the crowd at the front gates. He had just met the chief justice, he said, who seemed elated. "It's been two years," he said, with a smile. "We did it."

Walking to his van and moving aside an old lantern in his trunk, he shows a stretch of thick rope which he says he was prepared to use to stage his own public hanging if the chief justice had not been reinstated.

"I feel alive," he says, "This is a new life."

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