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Pakistani Lawyers' Movement for Independent Judiciary Wins Key Supporter in US


As Pakistan's new leadership carries on the fight against Islamic extremists, President Asif Ali Zardari continues to face political pressure over the country's judiciary. And this week in the U.S., former Attorney General Ramsey Clark said he will go to Pakistan to join the lawyers' struggle to reinstate the nation's top judge. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was dismissed last year by then-President Pervez Musharraf who imposed emergency rule in the country. Clark made the remarks as he met Chaudhry in New York. VOA'S Ravi Khanna reports the domestic dispute has repercussions in the Pakistan's battle against militants.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari is walking a political tight rope. On the one hand, he hopes to convince his countrymen that the fight against Islamic extremists is their own. On the other hand, he publicly urges the U.S. cease unilteral missile attacks on militants which he says anger his people.

And on the domestic policy front, he still faces the push by Pakistani lawyers to bring back Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry who was unconstitutionally dismissed along with 50 other judges. The movement continues, despite the fact that 45 of those judges have rejoined the judiciary.

Speaking to law students at Georgetown University, Chaudhry lectures on the rule of law. He and other leaders are seeking support among Washington's lawyers.

A senior Pakistani advocate, Athar Minallah told Georgetown University Law students that Pakistani lawyers have used the Internet to find help from American lawyers.

"Those students who are in the United States studying in various universities, the kind of network that they have created and the contribution that is being made by them, it amazes me," he said.

One such supporter, human rights activist Jonna Davis took part in a long march staged by the Pakistani lawyers last June. "I will say definitely, don't give up on the movement for democracy and the restoration of the chief justice," she said."People need to be realistic that it is not going to be overnight."

Minallah says if Pakistan's Parliament does not reinstate the chief justice, the judiciary in Pakistan can never be independent. "Any judge before whom is the example and fate of Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and the other judges and their families, no judge would ever dare to become independent," he stated.

An independent judiciary is also a must to fight Islamic extremism in Pakistan, says the leader of the movement, senior Supreme Court advocate, Aitzaz Ahsan.

"People turn away from a system that is incapable of imparting justice and embrace the rough, ready and brutal justice system of the Taliban. Thus our crucial battle is being lost," he said.

But Stephen Cohen at the Brookings Institution in Washington gives President Zardari's government credit for bringing stability to Pakistan.

"It has formed a stable government at the center, and stable coalitions in most of the provinces. It is an amazing accomplishment given how far gone Pakistan was just a few months ago," he said.

And as the debate goes on, the ousted chief justice continues his campaign for an independent judiciary. He told Georgetown law students in Washington that such missions take time.

Chaudhry pointed out, "The U.S. Supreme Court of the 1950's was altogether different from that of the 1990's, just as the Indian Supreme Court of the 1980's bears no resemblance to the Indian Supreme Court of today."

Chaudhry remains hopeful that the judicial fight he began last year for ordinary Pakistani's rights and privileges will continue. He says it is crucial to bringing real democracy in Pakistan and that his struggle is not just to get his job back, but to bring judicial independence in Pakistan.

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