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In Pakistan, Musharraf Exit Puts Focus On Judges

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Pervez Musharraf spent his first full day as a mere civilian. Today, the leaders of Pakistan's government were still celebrating his resignation when their own problems flared up.

There's a new crack in the ruling coalition. At issue once again, Musharraf's firing of judges and what to do about them now that the president is gone. NPR's Phillip Reeves reports from Islamabad.

PHILLIP REEVES: This is where you come if you want to find a lawyer in the capital of Pakistan. It's a warren of alleys cluttered with busy tea rooms and cramped, dust-caked legal offices, each one advertised by a hand-painted, black-and-white sign. Attorneys stand around in huddles, gossiping.

Today, there are only two topics of conversation. The first is the resignation of Pervez Musharraf. On this, says lawyer Salim de Mahani(ph), people are unanimous.

Mr. SALIM de MAHANI: The entire nation is happy, especially citizens, and we are all celebrating today.

REEVES: Today's second topic of conversation is a trickier subject. It's about whether Pakistan's coalition government will now, after months of delay, finally fulfill its promise to restore dozens of senior judges sacked by Musharraf.

For the lawyers here, this is a matter of immense importance. Many of them took part in protests that began early last year, when Musharraf moved to oust Pakistan's chief justice.

Demonstrations went on for month after month and morphed into a campaign for an independent judiciary and an end to military rule. Lawyers were beaten and jailed. The lawyers' uprising played a large part in the events that brought about the fall of Musharraf. That's why Salim de Mahani's confident that the sacked judges will now get their jobs back.

Mr. MAHANI: Yes, I'm sanguine. I'm very much sure, and they are going to be restored within 24 hours.

REEVES: Really?

Mr. MAHANI: Yes, we are sure. And the parliament is going to play its role.

REEVES: Others are not so sure. Sayid Moussad Hussein Sharrazi(ph) is delighted Musharraf's resigned, but he believes the battle for a genuinely independent judiciary is not over.

Mr. SAYID MOUSSAD HUSSEIN SHARRAZI (Attorney): I think that we are feeling the happiness, but this happiness is only 50 percent, not 100 percent because our struggle is probably restoration of the judiciary.

REEVES: He doesn't trust Pakistan's new leaders.

Mr. SHARRAZI: I think that these people are not sincere, especially the Pakistan People's Party.

REEVES: The Pakistan People's Party is the biggest in the coalition. It's led by Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari. The other is controlled by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This month, they promised they'd restore the sacked judges straight after impeaching Musharraf, though in the end, the general left of his own accord. Today, they met.

The spotlight fell on them to see if they'd keep their pledge. They didn't. They failed to agree. Sharif wants the judges back at once, Zardari's less enthusiastic.

This could matter a lot. It raises doubts about whether the coalition can survive for long. It raises concerns among those who long for a stable Pakistan that the new civilization government will be engulfed by another political crisis instead of dealing with Pakistan's acute problems, the unraveling economy and violent Islamist militancy.

Certainly, the attorneys of Islamabad think it matters. Foyar Hussein Ametkan(ph) has no doubt about what'll happen if Pakistan's coalition government does not restore the judiciary.

Mr. FOYAR HUSSEIN AMETKAN (Attorney): This unrest, I believe, will continue, and the lawyers' community, it will definitely carry forward their present movement.

REEVES: By that he means Pakistan's lawyers will once again take their grievances onto the streets. Phillip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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