|Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry was reinstated.|
Pakistan chief justice back in courtroom
His victory seen as loss for Musharraf
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan's chief justice returned to work yesterday, days after the Supreme Court reinstated him in a landmark ruling that struck a blow for democracy and undermined the authority of President General Pervez Musharraf.
Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry won the court battle on Friday, more than four months after Musharraf removed him for alleged misconduct and sparked mass protests against military rule.
Smartly dressed guards saluted Chaudhry before he climbed into his official limousine at his residence on his way to the court in the morning. It was a sharp contrast to the humiliation he suffered after his March 9 suspension when he was manhandled by police and placed under virtual house arrest for several days.
Chaudhry's staff were on hand to receive him at the court, where he began hearing cases, including a customs dispute involving a paper mill.
The return was low key and without the crowds of lawyers and opposition activists whose raucous demonstrations across the country for judicial independence put Musharraf on the defensive.
Musharraf has been politically weakened by his failed attempt to oust Chaudhry and also faces an alarming upsurge in Islamic militancy.
But lawyers have called off their protests, easing one of the general's political headaches as he maneuvers for a new five-year presidential term this fall.
"There will be no protests from our side after the reinstatement of the chief justice," said Tariq Mahmood, one of Chaudhry's attorneys.
Mahmood said that lawyers' associations had been urged to end unrest.
Another of Chaudhry's lawyers in the case said the onus was now on the chief justice and other judges to provide basic rights to Pakistanis. "We didn't fight this legal battle for Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry," said Tariq Mahmood.
"Our fight was for the independence of judiciary, and we won it," Mahmood said. "The campaign we started . . . will only succeed if the judges realize their duties, and resist government pressures."
The verdict was widely seen as clipping the wings of the military, long the dominant force in Pakistan.
Musharraf, who has accepted the verdict, insisted that he had no political motive in suspending Chaudhry and asking a judicial tribunal to investigate him on charges including nepotism.
Still, the general stirred up a storm of criticism that he was trying to remove an independent- minded judge who might stand in the way of extending his eight-year rule.
Musharraf's administration also faces a surge in Islamic militant attacks on security forces in the aftermath of this month's bloody assault on a pro-Taliban mosque that had challenged the government's authority in Islamabad.
Yesterday, suspected militants clashed with security forces in northwestern Pakistan, leaving at least 20 insurgents and two soldiers dead, an army spokesman said.
Violence has spiraled in North Waziristan, along the border with Afghanistan, since militants scrapped a controversial September peace accord in response to the army re establishing checkpoints in a region where Arab, Afghan, and Central Asian militants suspected of links with local Taliban and Al Qaeda are believed to operate.
In Washington, President Bush's homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, said Sunday that if needed, the United States would consider using military force against Al Qaeda to stop it from using its hide-out in Pakistan to launch terrorist attacks.
Yesterday, Pakistan strongly objected to the comments.