Pakistan to reinstate judges after protests

Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is shown speaking on his mobile phone Monday iin Islamabad.
All judges sacked by Pakistan’s previous president, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, will be reinstated, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani announced Monday after days of massive protests by lawyers demanding government action.

“As per my commitment and the commitment of [President] Asif Ali Zardari, I announce the reinstatement of all deposed judges,” Gilani said in his address Monday. In addition, Gilani said the government is seeking a review of a court ruling last month that disqualified opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother from public office and ensnared the country in a political crisis. Gilani also said protesters arrested over the past few days will be released. Hundreds of lawyers held protests over the past week between Karachi and Islamabad, which demonstrators had planned to cap with a sprawling sit-in at the parliament building in Islamabad on Monday. Following Gilani’s announcement, the lawyers’ movement canceled its demonstration and replaced with it with a celebration march and rally scheduled for Monday. The demonstrators, which included civil rights and political activists in addition to lawyers, touted different causes during their protests, but were united by one common grievance: dissatisfaction with Asif Ali Zardari’s government.

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One group demanded the government immediately restore judges whom then-President Pervez Musharraf ousted. Zardari had promised he would, but he failed to do so when he took office. In protest, hundreds of lawyers — and their supporters — engaged in a “Long March.” The second group were supporters of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N). They were angry that the Supreme Court last month barred Sharif from holding public office, citing a criminal record that dates to the late 1990s. The court also stripped Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz, of his post as chief minister of Punjab. After sweeping into power in parliamentary elections last year, Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party promised to reinstate the judges within 30 days of taking office. The deadline came and went.

The political turmoil in Pakistan comes just a year after the country celebrated a return to democracy. It has forced the government’s attention away from a deadly fundamentalist insurgency in its tribal areas and an economy that’s on the verge of collapse. The U.S. embassy in Islamabad praised Gilani’s announcement, saying in a statement, “This is a statesmanlike decision taken to defuse a serious confrontation, and the apparent removal of this long-standing national issue is a substantial step towards national reconciliation.”