Ousted Pakistan Chief Justice Restored: Crisis Appears Over

Prime Minister Tells Opposition Officials Chaudhry Will Be 'Unconditionally' Restored

Last Updated 3/15/09 11:25 PM EST

Iftkhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s 20th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was unconditionally restored to power during an address by Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani early Wednesday morning. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has called off the long march after talking with other opposition party heads. He congratulated the protesters on seeing to the restoration of the judiciary.

Chaudhry’s return to power has been one of the most divisive issues since the end of General Pervez Musharraf’s reign, and the protest movement built around his supporters has been the driving force in the Long March protests of the past several days.

Chaudhry had a hostile relationship with then-President Musharraf, who in November of 2007 sent the military into the Supreme Court and captured all its members. Chaudhry was placed under house arrest until he was ordered freed by Gilani four months later.

After the 2008 elections, a coalition government formed between the two largest parties, the Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), with a promise to restore Chaudhry to power one of the central points of agreement. The coalition splintered in August of 2008 when President Zardari declared any promises made with the PML-N were not binding, and Nawaz Sharif put the PML-N into the opposition.

The situation remained somewhat stable, in spite of a growing lawyers’ protest movement calling for Chaudhry’s restoration, until last month, when the current Supreme Court declared Sharif ineligible for political office, citing his opposition to the 1999 coup that brought Musharraf to power. After the ruling Zardari seized control of the Punjab Province, igniting a nation-wide protest movement which led to the imposition of emergency rule, the mass arrest of opposition members, and the banning of the nation’s most popular TV news station.

But despite ever growing crackdowns, the marchers continued on, it seems they have won. Chaudhry has been restored, and the situation may finally return to normal. For over 100 million Pakistanis facing formal bans on public gatherings and a brand of governance many hoped they would never see against when Musharraf left office, not a moment too soon.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.