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Pakistan’s Wildcard Justice

Graham Usher writes in Al-Ahram:

Pakistan’s 60th independence day — 10,000 opposition activists came to the garrison city of Rawalpindi to praise their country and denounce its army. “Let us save democracy and decide once and for all that the job of the armed forces is to defend the country’s frontiers and not to form or run the government,” former Pakistan prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, told the masses via telephone from Dubai.

Sharif is in exile. But he hopes soon to return to Pakistan in defiance of its beleaguered military ruler, President-General Pervez Musharraf. Whether he does depends on the will of Pakistan’s Supreme Court and its “simple but honest” chief justice, Iftikhar Mohamed Chaudhry. Musharraf will also have to abide by the decision.

“The chief justice is the most powerful man in Pakistan today — he’s running the government,” says a government source.

Six months ago Musharraf tried to sack him, wary that the chief justice’s activism might thwart his political ambitions. He was right. Chaudhry led mass, black-suited ranks of lawyers to resist the move and, in July, was restored. It dealt Musharraf the hardest blow of his rule. But it invigorated Pakistan’s political opposition, says analyst Hassan-Askari Rivzi.

“Before the lawyers’ campaign on behalf of the chief justice, the opposition was gripped by a sense of powerlessness. But now not only lawyers but political parties and civil society generally believe if it acts together it can bring change and affect government”.

The Supreme Court will pronounce on Sharif’s return on 23 August. It will be one of its lesser rulings in what promises to be a tumultuous time in Pakistani politics.

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Categories: Asia-Pacific, Politics
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