From the time Pervez Musharraf suspended him and placed him under house arrest in March 2007, through his first restoration later that year and the second in 2009, to present times, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary has come to be seen by ordinary Pakistanis as the only hope for their country. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court has been nothing less than activist, calling politicians, government, the military, intelligence services, police, all of them to account. From Pakistan's relations with the U.S. to the country's budget, there is no area of public life that the higher judiciary has spared in the last five years, no national ill that it has not commented on. Some have seen in its actions and pronouncements a grudge against the Pakistan People's Party government, especially against President Asif Ali Zardari. Now and then, the court's actions have given reason for such a conclusion, especially when it overturned the graft cases amnesty granted by General Musharraf that benefited Mr. Zardari. Still, the Chief Justice has defied easy labelling, such as “pro-military”, “pro-Establishment” or “pro-Opposition”. What is more easily apparent, though, is that he enjoys public adulation and affection of the kind previously unheard of in the country.
Not surprising then that when the country's biggest property tycoon claimed he had bribed Mr. Chaudhary's son to win favourable judgments in cases relating to him being heard in the Supreme Court, the allegation came to be seen as part of a political campaign to unseat the Chief Justice. If that is really the case, Mr. Chaudhary has won this battle: he first took suo motu notice of the allegations against his son, then recused himself from the case; the bench hearing the case has now ordered the government to use all available instruments to investigate the allegations and act as appropriate. Most importantly, in the time-frame covered by the allegations, the Court gave no verdicts favourable to the businessman. The controversy is bound to have implications for the turf war that has roiled Pakistan over the last few months. The Supreme Court and the Executive have been locked in a struggle to redefine the limits of their powers. Before the court are petitions against the Speaker's decision not to disqualify the Prime Minister on the grounds of his conviction in the now famous contempt case. The conflict has already sapped the energy of the nation, and diverted virtually all attention from day to day governance, but if it leads to stronger institutions, Pakistan, and its nascent democracy can only benefit.