ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Hailing the Supreme Court’s reinstatement of Pakistan’s chief justice, newspapers warned democratic forces on Saturday that destabilizing President Pervez Musharraf further could play into militant and extremist hands.
Jubilant front page coverage of the first-ever ruling against a military leader in Pakistan, contrasted sharply with the past week’s shocking stories and images of multiple suicide bombings by Islamist militants.
“Justice restored, history re-written” read the banner headline in The News, the country’s biggest selling English language newspaper.
A photograph below showed a victorious Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, his arms aloft.
With elections due later this year, Friday’s court decision was seen as both a major blow to General Musharraf, who suspended the country’s top judge in March on accusations of misconduct, and a victory for the independence of Pakistan’s judiciary.
The defeat for U.S. ally Musharraf comes while Pakistan is in the grip of a violent campaign waged by Islamist militants.
More than 180 people have been killed so far this month, many of them victims of suicide bomb attacks that have targeted police and soldiers.
The Daily Times newspaper, in an editorial titled “Lessons of a historic victory,” said that Pakistan’s military president would not survive long if he rejected the verdict — though a spokesman has already said that won’t happen.
The newspaper went on to counsel against being in a rush to restore “unadulterated democracy” and push out Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 coup.
“Equally, if the sense of victory should go to the head of the pro-democracy forces and triggered political gridlock between the executive and judiciary, the country could slide into anarchy, which would play into the hands of the religious-extremist forces,” the Daily Times counselled.
Islamist militants launched revenge attacks after deadly clashes outside an Islamabad mosque, harboring a Taliban-style movement, forced Musharraf to send in troops.
The government said 102 people were killed in the clashes, siege and assault on the capital’s Red Mosque.
One suicide attack killed 17 people at a gathering for Chief Justice Chaudhry in Islamabad on Tuesday.
But fear turned to joy among his supporters on Friday after the Supreme Court delivered what the News described as a “giant leap” in the struggle for independence of judiciary.
A countrywide campaign by lawyers and opposition activists in support of Chaudhry had represented the strongest challenge to Musharraf’s authority since he came to power.
The United States said the resolution of such an issue through the legal process reflected well on Pakistan.
“It speaks positively of the political situation in Pakistan that these kinds of issues can be resolved through the established institutions, through the rule of law,” U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey told a news briefing.
FAIR AND JUST
The Dawn newspaper said that while Chaudhry had been vindicated, his impartiality as a judge could now be called into question after the bitter struggle to get his job back.
“After his lengthy court battle and public rallies, can he be fair and just to those who tried to destroy him? Would a conflict of interest arise?” it said in an editorial.
Observers say Chaudhry’s reinstatement could create problems for Musharraf in the event of probable constitutional challenges to his plan to seek re-election in the next few months.
The News said the judgment should open a debate on the role on army in the political affairs of a country that has been led by generals for more than half the 60 years since it was founded.
“Let us hope that this judgment finally puts this troubled country on the road to constitutional rule and democracy.”