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Pak CJ reinstated
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

In a historic judgement, the Supreme Court on Friday reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, annulling the presidential order of his suspension and dealing a serious blow to the President, General Musharraf’s image and authority.

The court also quashed the presidential reference against the CJ that contained allegations of misconduct and abuse of office.

The 13-judge full Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously declared as illegal and unconstitutional President Musharraf’s orders of suspending Justice Chaudhry and later sending him on forced leave. There was, however, a division on quashing the reference with three judges favouring to send it back to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

The verdict reflected an emphatic statement on the independence of the judiciary, reversing a long and infamous chapter that began in 1954 when the apex court sanctified the dissolution of the National Assembly by the then strongman and Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad in the Tamizuddin case. From that date on, the judiciary submitted to the will of every military ruler, legitimising military coups and even hanging an elected Prime Minister.

In the first official reaction, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz stated in unambiguous terms that the government would accept the verdict in its entirety and implement it.

The judgement seriously jeopardises General Musharraf’s plans to get elected from present assemblies, retain his military uniform and be a candidate in the presidential election, all of which are likely to be challenged in the court on point of their constitutional validity.

The removal of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was widely interpreted as an attempt to muzzle the independence of the judiciary because General Musharraf suspected Iftikhar might not endorse his plans if challenged in the court.

Ecstatic lawyers, led by Iftikhar’s counsel Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, emerged from the court waving the 'V' sign. Aitzaz was lifted by lawyers on their shoulders chanting slogans “go Musharraf go”. Across the country lawyers, political workers and common people came out dancing and raising anti-Musharraf slogans to celebrate a resounding and unprecedented victory.

“Justice has won and the principle of independence of the judiciary has been re-established unmistakably,” Aitzaz said in brief remarks to the crowd gathered on the Supreme Court premises, adding: “The great struggle waged by the legal fraternity with the support of people of Pakistan has achieved a historic victory.”

General Musharraf was presiding over a top-level meeting attended by the Prime Minister, federal ministers, provincial governors, chief ministers, intelligence chiefs and senior officials to discuss the prevailing law and order situation in the wake of deadly suicide attacks, which have killed nearly 200 persons, mostly troops, in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid operation.

The implications of the Supreme Court judgement were also discussed after which the Prime Minister made a brief comment to the Press.

General Musharraf himself has said on more than one occasions that the Supreme Court verdict would be acceptable to him though he would “cry” if in this battle of truth and falsehood, the latter won.

The counsel for the federation, Qayyum Malik, had recently said that in the case of the government losing the case, the Prime Minister would have to resign.

“This is a great landmark in the history of the judiciary and a great triumph for principles of the independence of the judiciary,” former Chief Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim said, but reminded the nation that it was only the first step towards lofty goals of restoring the rule of law and supremacy of the constitution.

“Today a new Supreme Court is born,” Munir A. Malik, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) who led the lawyers’ historic campaign, said while acknowledging that on occasions he did have lurking suspicions whether the court would free itself from the authoritarian shadow of a military ruler to deliver a free and fair judgement.

Among politicians, cricketing legend and chief of the Tehrik-e-Insaf Imran Khan described the verdict as “a defining moment” in the struggle for restoration of democracy in the country.

The judgement was immediately enforced and all privileges of the Chief Justice were restored. Chief Justice Iftikhar heard the verdict on television at his residence where the national flag was again hoisted after pulling it down from that of acting Chief Justice Bhagwandas Rana.

Law experts said the verdict permanently disallowed removal of judges by the President or sending any judge on forced leave under a law enacted by Gen Yahya Khan in 1970 and validated with retrospective effect in 1975.

Edit: Snub for General

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