Pakistan's deposed top judge Chaudhry eyes old job

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry returned to the Supreme Court on Monday for the first time since his ouster nearly a year ago, vowing he would soon be restored to office.

Pakistan's deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry waves to supporters at Jinnah International airport in Karachi October 18, 2008, as he arrives to attend a lawyers convention in Hyderabad. REUTERS/Athar Hussain

Former President Pervez Musharraf’s attempt to dismiss the independent-minded top judge in March 2007 whipped up opposition to Musharraf, which dogged him until his resignation in August under threat of impeachment.

But Musharraf’s resignation did not end controversy over the judge, and the failure of the government led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s party to reinstate Chaudhry led to a split in the coalition in August.

About 200 lawyers welcomed Chaudhry at the Supreme Court bar association office, showering him with flowers and chanting slogans on his return for the first time since he was dismissed on Nov. 3 last year, when Musharraf imposed emergency rule.

“The movement is in its final round and, God willing, it will be successful,” Chaudhry told the lawyers campaigning for his reinstatement.

The lawyers’ protest movement represents a challenge to a government struggling with an economic crisis and surging militant violence.

Analysts say Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who was elected president last month, does not want Chaudhry restored.

Zardari fears Chaudhry might reopen legal challenges to an amnesty from graft charges Musharraf granted Bhutto, Zardari and other senior officials in their party last year as part of a proposed power-sharing deal, analysts say.

But the country’s second-biggest party, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, is demanding Chaudhry get his job back. Sharif pulled his party out of the coalition in August after Zardari missed deadlines to reinstate the judge.

The break-up of the coalition brought fears of infighting between the two big parties and, although that has not happened, a new round of protests over the judge will again raise concern.

Aitzaz Ahsan, a former government minister and lawyer who has spearheaded the campaign to get Chaudhry restored, has called for a sit-in in front of parliament on Nov. 3 to mark the anniversary of Chaudhry’s dismissal.

“The movement is going places and obviously not finished until the chief justice is allowed to resume his office and authority as chief justice of Pakistan,” Ahsan told Reuters as he arrived at the Supreme Court.

“The movement is on the march,” he said.