Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: In a move that has outraged the legal community, lawyers’ organisations and the opposition Pakistan Muslim league (N), the Pakistan People’s Party-led government on Wednesday restored eight judges of the Sindh High Court from among the 60 dismissed by the former President, Pervez Musharraf, in November 2007.

The judges took a fresh oath of office on Wednesday morning and were restored to their respective positions as on November 2, 2007, the day before General Musharraf sacked them after imposing an Emergency.

The move, seen as part of a larger plan to keep the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary from returning to office, was condemned by the Nawaz Sharif-led PML (N) and leaders of the lawyers’ movement. They dubbed it a “reappointment” rather than the unconditional reinstatement that they have been demanding as the judges were sworn in.

Their stand is that retired General Musharraf dismissed the judges unconstitutionally, and as such, they should all be restored at the same time through an executive order following a parliamentary resolution.

Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, who has spearheaded the agitation by the lawyers for restoring the deposed judges, said restoring the judges in this manner was tantamount to accepting the constitutional validity of their dismissal last year. “This means they have accepted the November 3 actions [the day General Musharraf imposed Emergency] as constitutional. They have accepted their dismissal as valid,” said Mr. Ahsan.

The firebrand barrister, who has staked his political career in the PPP by taking the lead role in the lawyers’ movement in which his party leadership showed little interest from the word go, said it was “deeply saddening” to see some judges accepting reappointments.

Ploy

The piecemeal “reappointment” is also being described as part of a ploy to keep Mr. Chaudhary from returning to office, as he would certainly not take the oath of office again.

Seen in this light, analysts are saying, the move is comparable to purges of the Supreme Court by General Musharraf, and before him, General Zia-ul-Haq. Both ensured judges opposed to them would step down rather than be sworn in afresh to the “provisional constitutional order.”

“The whole issue is about Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary. They want to keep him out. But the lawyers’ movement will go on until he is restored. The lawyers’ will turn their grief into strength and keep the movement going. Pakistan cannot move ahead until Iftikhar Chaudhary is restored,” added Mr. Ahsan. The PPP believes Mr. Chaudhary could prove difficult to handle, and may even reopen corruption cases against Mr. Zardari. Also, the deposed Chief Justice is now seen in a wider circle as politically compromised due to his long association with an agitation for his restoration, which was fully backed by the PML (N).

PML (N) spokesman Siddiqul Farooq said the agreement between his party leader Nawaz Sharif and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari was for all the judges to be restored without being sworn in another time.

Earlier this week, the PML (N) quit the ruling coalition, accusing Mr. Zardari of not reinstating the judges as the two leaders had agreed. “These eight judges have been reappointed, not reinstated. This has set a bad precedent, and it shows that the government accepts Musharraf’s actions as constitutional and valid,” said Mr Farooq.

The deposed Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court was not among the restored judges. A new Chief Justice has been appointed to take over from the one who was appointed during the Emergency.

The lawyers’ movement is scheduled to hold country-wide ‘dharnas’ on Thursday to press their demands. Athar Minallah, a Supreme Court lawyer, who is an aide of Mr. Chaudhary, warned the government would have to answer for its actions. “This is not the Pakistan of 10 years ago, or even two years ago. Now the people of Pakistan want politics of principles and values,” said Mr. Minallah.

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