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Pakistani Supreme Court rebuffs Musharraf

Dictators are not used to being told ‘no, especially not dictators who control all the levers of power. So it was not too surprising that one fine day a few months back, President and General Musharraf called the Chief Justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court and told him to resign. He has some procedural issues in running again as President while remaining Army Chief (must be his 9th year as Army Chief), and wanted a more pliable Chief Justice. Imagine the surprise of such a dictator when somebody tells him No, as the Chief Justice did. Anyhow, a dictator can do more things, and hence Musharraf ordered the removal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
Things spiralled out of control, with a massive public campaign against this firing, and the Chief Justice roamed the country, getting more public support. In the meantime, the Supreme Court convened a full panel to decide on the sacking of the Chief Justice as well as the weak allegations of corruption against him. The Government unleashed a lot of terror against these demonstrations, such as in Karachi where a friendly party unleashed large scale demonstrations against the visit of the Chief Justice.

However, in a judgment that the General would have never expected, the Supreme Court panel turned hostile, and declared that the removal of the Chief Justice was illegal and that he could return to the post:

In a severe blow to U.S.-backed President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s Supreme Court reinstated its chief justice to his post Friday four months after Musharraf’s government suspended him. Reversing Musharraf’s removal of Judge Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Supreme Court also ruled a series of government charges against him “illegal.”
It was, by all accounts, a historic day for Pakistan. The court had rarely defied the country’s political establishment in the past; its decisions could be counted on to legitimize military coups, such as the one that brought Musharraf to power in 1999. Most in Pakistan saw the case as a test of the rule of law in their nation: Could a military ruler brush aside the head of the Supreme Court at will? “When you go through the 60-year history of Pakistan, whenever a moment, a test came, somehow or the other we always failed,” said Tariq Mahmoud, a member of Chaudhry’s legal team and a former high court judge. “But this decision gives us an independent judiciary, and with that, whenever there are illegal government actions, these matters can now be brought before the court.”

These are times of incredible reversals for Musharraf. His victory in the siege of the Lal Masjid has come at a great cost, with people blaming him for the crisis reaching that point, and the religious right totally against him now. The US and other countries are now realizing that he is a reluctant convert to the war against terror, and their dependence on him to clear terrorism from the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan has failed.
And now this. The Supreme Court had originally granted his coup legitimacy, but with this reversal, a severe dent to his image has happened. And now that people see that a high constitutional authority is willing to challenge him, his power is going to be much weaker now.

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