/ 24 March 2009

Pakistan’s Chaudhry pleads for end to corruption

Pakistan’s reinstated top judge Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry urged lawyers on Tuesday to wipe out corruption in the judiciary amid a hero’s welcome on his first day in court for 16 months.

Chaudhry’s reinstatement by the government on Sunday, two years after he was dismissed by military ruler Pervez Musharraf, marked a dramatic U-turn that has boosted hopes of an end to a debilitating crisis in the nuclear-armed nation.

Millions of Pakistanis hope he will cleanse the judiciary, but experts warn that he faces huge challenges to bring about legal and institutional reform.

”It is a matter of great satisfaction and a day of thanksgiving to Allah the almighty that after a long period the original court has been restored,” Chaudhry told a courtroom packed with lawyers who gave him a standing ovation.

”There is rampant corruption in this institution [judiciary]. This cannot be eradicated without the help of lawyers. You people should come forward to point out such cases,” he said.

”I will request all of you, being officers of this court, to put your house in order first,” Chaudhry said.

His vehicle was showered with rose petals after swinging into the supreme court compound under heavy police escort as lawyers waved Pakistani flags and welcome banners, and activists released coloured balloons into the sky.

Meanwhile, lawyers filed a petition to reverse the appointment of dozens of supreme court and high court judges nominated under emergency rule in Pakistan and without going through the correct legal processes.

Another petition was filed at the Lahore branch of the supreme court, calling for Musharraf to face trial for treason.

The independent-minded Chaudhry and 60 other top judges were sacked by the former president, who feared the supreme court would disqualify him from contesting a presidential election while remaining head of the military.

The announcement on March 16 that the government would reinstate the deposed chief justice was calculated to end a major crisis between opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and the deeply unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari.

The decision was made under intense Western pressure. In the wake of the move, Sharif scrapped a mass protest march on the capital, Islamabad.

Political leaders have since called for reconciliation but no concrete agreements have been announced and Sharif, the most popular politician in the country, says Chaudhry’s restoration should be followed by further reforms.

A date is still pending for the supreme court to hear a government appeal looking to overturn a February 25 ruling that disqualified Sharif and his brother Shahbaz from contesting elections.

Neither has a deal been reached on ending Zardari’s direct rule in Pakistan’s most powerful province of Punjab after the court decision forced Shahbaz Sharif to leave his post as chief minister.

Chaudhry, who shies away from the media and refuses to make political statements, has a reputation as an upstanding, independent-minded judge who clashed frequently with the former Musharraf regime.

Sworn in on June 30 2005, one of his most famous moves was to take up the cases of missing people allegedly held by Pakistani security forces or handed over to the United States on terror charges.

A small group of relatives of the missing held banners outside court on Tuesday saying ”release immediately our valuable citizens and loved ones”.

Chaudhry ordered the security services to produce several of the missing in court before he was sacked by Musharraf.

He was initially suspended by Musharraf in March 2007 then reinstated on appeal, before being sacked in November of that year. — AFP