Pakistan: opposition scores historic win —but terror continues

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani announced March 16 that the government will reinstate deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in response to the opposition protests. In a televised address, Gilani announced that Chaudhry and other deposed judges will be reinstated March 21, when the current chief justice retires. Gilani ordered the releaseof all arrested during the past week’s “long march” protest, which began March 12.

Gilani also announced that the government will file a petition to reverse the recent Supreme Court ruling that barred opposition leader and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif from holding elected office based on a past criminal conviction. Finally, Gilani lifted a ban on public demonstrations. BBC reported that the truning point came when growing numbers of police officers refused to carry out orders for repression against the protesters.

Reports surfaced late March 15 that President Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), had agreed to reinstate Chaudhry and other judges ousted by Zardari’s predecessor Pervez Musharraf in November 2007 after his declaration of emergency rule. Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have actively campaigned for Chaudhry’s reinstatement, leading a similar “long march” last summer. Chaudhry has always maintained that he is still chief justice under the Pakistani constitution. (Jurist, BBC World Service, March 16)

But even as the opposition celebrated their victory, an explosion struck a bus depot on the outskirts of Rawalpindi, killing at least eight people. Rawalpindi police chief Nasir Khan Durrani told the BBC the blast appeared to be a suicide car bomb attack. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the bomber probably intended to attack the opposition rally planned for the day, which was called off following the new accord with the government. “We had prior information that there could be an attack during the ‘long march’ in Rawalpindi and Islamabad,” he was quoted as saying. “The people who did this are trying to destabilize Pakistan.” (BBC News, March 16)

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