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Big win for Pakistan protesters

The government agreed Monday to restore deposed judges. Activists want further reforms.

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Those broader concerns include special powers given to the presidency under Musharraf, which the PPP promised to devolve back to the prime minister but has yet to do.

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Another issue is what to do with the judges that Musharraf and Zardari appointed to replace the deposed judges. The lawyers who launched the mass protests see those replacements as loyal to the president, arguing that they were neither chosen in consultation with high-court justices nor qualified to serve.

"These are cases of simply packing the courts," says Wajihuddin Ahmad, a former Supreme Court justice. "Because these appointments have been so poorly made and involve people who have no qualifications, that makes the work of clearing them away easier."

Mr. Ahmad estimates that these appointees account for roughly half of the 120 justices across the high-court system. It's not clear if Zardari would agree to their removal since their loyalty might insulate him from any legal challenges. Many analysts say that Zardari had resisted reinstating Chaudhry because the independent chief justice might decide to invalidate an agreement that shields Zardari from previous corruption charges.

Zardari will also face a challenge over the 17th Amendment, which gives him the ability to dissolve parliament. That provision has effectively elevated his position above the office of the prime minister and weakened the legislature. The Charter of Democracy, however, calls for the prime minister to be elevated and for judges to be appointed through consultation, making Gilani's nod to the document significant.

In recent days, the British Foreign Office has also highlighted the charter. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her representative to the region, Richard Holbrooke, both called Pakistani leaders at the height of the tensions late last week. The Army Chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani also played a mediating role.

Public opinion vs. Washington's

These behind-the-scenes efforts generally drew praise here – but mostly because the interventions seemed to come in the form of mediation, not ultimatum.

One of the hopes for the independent judiciary, among those gathered at the chief justice's home, is that it might usher in leaders who would be more responsive to public opinion – and, by extension, less responsive to Washington.

"I'm sure that once we have an independent judiciary there will be protections for democracy, and this will lessen the interference" from abroad, says Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry, a former vice president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

Analysts here see limited impact on the US-Pakistani relationship. "It perhaps opens a window for the political leadership to ... preclude the possibilities of interference from nonpolitical [i.e. military] and non-Pakistani actors," says Imtiaz Gul, head of the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. Zardari's plummeting fortunes made it necessary for the US to approach this crisis more even-handedly, he suggests.

"Instead of backing a horse or two, the US should back the stable: that is parliament," Mr. Gul continues. "I think they will do this country better by putting their bets on the Parliament rather than individuals."

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