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Profile: Iftikhar Chaudhry
The former chief justice proved Musharraf's biggest challenge since he took power.
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2008 12:17 GMT

If reinstated by parliament , Chaudhry could rule Musharraf's re-election illegal [Reuters]

Iftikhar Chaudhry, the twice-deposed Pakistani chief justice, has re-entered the public sphere after spending more than three months under house arrest by order of Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president.

Freed on order of Pakistan's newly elected prime minister, Musharraf can expect parliament to move to reinstate Chaudhry and other judges the president sacked last year.

Despite being confined to his house since last November, Chaudhry has continued to draw popular support, setting off the biggest challenge to Musharraf's rule since he took power in a 1999 coup.

Musharraf in fact appointed Chaudhry chief justice of the supreme court in 2005, but by March 9, 2007, had suspended him from his duties.

Rising tensions

Friction started to grow between the judiciary and the government in 2006 after the supreme court rejected a government move to sell a stake in state-owned Pakistan Steel Mills to a Saudi-Russian-Pakistani consortium, arguing that it was undervalued.

Special report

Chaudhry later heard a landmark case brought by relatives of dozens of people believed to have been taken into secret custody by Pakistani intelligence agencies.

The chief justice pressed the government to provide information on the detainees' whereabouts.

When Musharraf removed Chaudhry early in 2007, it sparked nationwide demonstrations against the president and army chief, galvanised the political opposition and outraged the legal community.

Chaudhry's suspension consequently marked the beginning of a slide in popularity for Musharraf.

Critics condemned the move as an attack on the independence of the judiciary and seven judges and a deputy attorney-general resigned in protest.

They also charged that Musharraf was sidelining the judge to head off legal challenges to his plan to seek a new five-year presidential term later that year.

The government, however, maintained the move was not politically motivated and that Chaudhry had abused his office - namely to secure promotions for his son.

By July 2007, the supreme court had reinstated Chaudhry and dismissed charges against him.

Emergency rule

With growing unrest across the country - including a rapidly rising body count from violent deaths - Musharraf suspended Pakistan's constitution and imposed emergency rule last November.

That same day - November 3 - Chaudhry and eight other judges of the supreme court refused to endorse a provisional constitutional order issued by the president.

Shortly after, Chaudhry was once again told by the government that his "services were no longer required", swiftly replaced by a new chief judge, and put under house arrest with his family.

Having now emerged from enforced seclusion just over a year after his initial suspension, analysts say Chaudhry is likely to be reinstated to his former post.

Raja Assad Hameed, a special correspondent for The Nation newspaper, told Al Jazeera: "It stands as the most popular demand of the masses, and of the parliament.

"Many politicians who were pro-Musharraf, and backed the detention of the judges, now have changed sides."

The new government has vowed to reinstate him, and if it honours that pledge, Chaudhry could deliver the final blow to Musharraf by ruling his re-election illegal and removing him from the presidency.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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