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“The fear barrier of state terrorism is broken”

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Battle won: The former Pakistani Premier, Nawaz Sharif, in Gujranwala on Monday.
Battle won: The former Pakistani Premier, Nawaz Sharif, in Gujranwala on Monday.

Nirupama Subramanian

But lawyers see many a slip between the cup and the lip

ISLAMABAD: Motorists made the V sign on the capital’s roads, strangers greeted each other with “mubarak”, and people distributed sweets as Pakistan celebrated the restoration of Iftikhar Chaudhary as the Chief Justice after exactly one year, four months and 12 days of a valiant struggle by the legal community and the civil society.

A weight seemed to have fallen off Pakistan’s shoulders following Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s address to the nation, in which he announced Mr. Chaudhary’s restoration.

The news of the restoration spread much earlier, at about 1 a.m. on Monday, when the state-run Pakistan Television announced that the Prime Minister would be addressing the nation.

The rush to Mr. Chaudhary’s home began immediately. Black-coated lawyers who had been gathering in Islamabad awaiting the “long march” that Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Nawaz Sharif was bringing from Lahore, were the first to rush up the hilly road to his house in the Judges Colony.

A spontaneous celebration began as soon as an opposition leader in the Nawaz Sharif camp confirmed to a television station that the Prime Minister had informed them of the decision.

“The whole country sees him as a source of inspiration. Only those who are lost in a jungle appreciate the hope even the smallest ray of light gives. He’s that ray of light for us,” said Mansoor-ul-Hassan, a lawyer from Lahore, looking tired after a night of celebrations and in his words, “ready to faint with happiness”.

Announcement

In many homes, people stayed glued to the television sets until 5.50 a.m., when the Prime Minister finally made the announcement after a long meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari.

By mid-morning, a good-sized crowd of people was singing and dancing outside Mr. Chaudhary’s home.

“It goes to prove that until we speak up, we will not get our rights,” said Akhtar Wali, whose father was jailed during General Zi-ul-Haq’s crippling dictatorship three decades ago. “The lesson from this for our people is, rise and fight for your rights, don’t sit in front of your televisions sets”.

Zafar Iqbal, a college professor, said he had come to express his “solidarity” with the lawyers and with Mr. Chaudhary.

“The main thing is we have broken the fear barrier of state terrorism. It’s a new hope, a new feeling that I hardly have the words to express,” he said

But the celebrating crowds also brought with them giant-sized expectations.

Allah Bachiah, a tall, strapping man from Sibi in Balochistan, said the Chief Justice must restore peace with rights in the troubled province where a low-level nationalist insurgency is ongoing.

“He must release all the political prisoners in Balochistan,” he said, while another man from Swat said Mr. Chaudhary must restore peace in the troubled Talibanised valley in the North-West Frontier Province.

People had brought drums and dholaks, they were singing, doing bhangras and chanting pro-Nawaz Sharif and pro-Chaudhary slogans.

Amina Janjua, who has led a movement by the families of persons who are missing after they were allegedly picked up by security agencies as terror suspects, was there too with a bouquet for the Chief Justice. Her husband Masood is among the 500 missing people, whose cases Mr. Chaudhary was seriously pursuing before his sacking.

“He’s going to reopen those cases, and our near and dear ones will be back home soon,” she said.

But amid the celebrations, some lawyers were worried too.

“Overall, it’s a victory for us, for the people of Pakistan. A President who was saying until two days ago that he would never restore Mr. Chaudhary has had to give in. But why have they not rolled back [former President Pervez] Musharraf’s November 3 actions? Why should Chaudhary be restored only after [the incumbent Chief Justice] Abdul Hameed Dogar resigns? There’s many a slip between the cup and lip,” said Altaf Bokhari, vice-president of the Multan High Court Bar.

PTI reports:

The U.S. welcomed the announcement to reinstate Justice Chaudhary, describing it as a “statesmanlike decision” to defuse a serious confrontation and a “substantial step” toward national reconciliation.

“We welcome the announcement by the Government of Pakistan of its plans to reinstate former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry,” the US Embassy here said in a statement.


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