Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry Reinstated

For the thousands of supporters who streamed through soon-to-be Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's house in Islamabad, today was the day that wasn't.

On Sunday, this city was filled with trepidation and fear of violent confrontation between protesting lawyers, the opposition party supporting them and troops armed with tear gas and bullets.

Instead, a mix of lawyers and party faithful, young and old, rich and poor, lined up today to shake Chaudhry's hand, filled with happiness and a confidence they can take on the government and win.

"Truth and justice will always prevail in the end," said Tahira Abdullah, a human rights activist, outside Chaudhry's house.

Just a dozen hours earlier, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani, following two days of back-and-forth meetings with the chief of the army, announced the government would reinstate Chaudhry, who had been deposed by then President Pervez Musharraf in 2007.

Chaudhry's supporters had threatened a "long march" from the country's major cities to Islamabad, where thousands planned a sit-in to protest against unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari.

But after violent clashes and open defiance of the police by opposition leader Nawaz Sharif in Lahore Sunday, the government caved to the protestors' main demand and promised to reinstall Chaudhry March 21.

The United States had waged intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy during the political crisis, worried that the confrontation would create a power vacuum in which militants in the country's northwest could grow stronger.

"In that vacuum, the militants could have thrived," admitted an aide to Zardari.

But the United States now finds itself in the same unenviable position it found itself in one year ago: appearing to back an unpopular leader, one who has become "one of the most ridiculed" Pakistani presidents, according to a member of Zardari's party, the Pakistan People's Party.

"Never before so many officers in the party have resigned and refused orders," said the official, who was close to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto but has fallen out of favor with Zardari's faction of the party. "There's such a complete discontentment that the slightest wind against Zardari will destroy him. If he had not bent yesterday, then he was doomed, along with the party."

The Pakistani Democracy

Analysts say there is a fear that any policy seen to be backed by Zardari will be tainted, including a policy that is becoming increasingly important for the Untied States: that the Pakistani army confront the Taliban along the Afghan border as thousands of U.S. troops arrive in Afghanistan this year.

Perhaps that is why the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, which usually declines to put out statements about Pakistani politics, released one within an hour after the prime minister's speech this morning.

"This is a statesmanlike decision taken to defuse a serious confrontation, and the apparent removal of this long-standing national issue is a substantial step towards national reconciliation," the statement said. "Now is the time for all Pakistanis and their political representatives to work together, with the support of their friends and allies, to peacefully strengthen their democracy and ensure a positive dialogue as they move forward to deal with the many issues confronting them."

For most Pakistanis though, today was a day of celebration, a day on which, for the first time, their voices moved the government to act.

"For the first time, people have mattered in Pakistan," said Hamid Khan, a leader of the lawyer's movement. "Earlier, the corrupt elite, corrupt establishment in Pakistan ... did everything which goes against the interests and the aspirants of the people. And for the first time, the government had to accept the aspirations of the people."

Chaudhry is seen as someone willing to take on the establishment. Most notably, he was suspended -- and eventually deposed -- by Musharraf over the privatization of Pakistani Steel and other cases. The lawyers movement that sprang from the suspension helped force Musharraf from power.

"They in him can see a person who can deliver justice to the common man and can stand up to the big establishment of this country," Khan said. "And can call the high officials and be able to order them to provide justice to the ordinary people."

Chaudry May Reopen Cases of Kidnapped Pakistani

Because of the chief justice reputation for independence, most analysts have predicted that Chaudhry would consider repealing the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a deal orchestrated by the United States that helped bring Bhutto and Zardari back to Pakistan from exile.

If that order were repealed, Zardari's claim on the presidency would be in question. But there is little belief that repealing it would be simple, and Chaudhry's supporters today indicated he would not make that a priority.

As chief justice, Chaudhry will choose which cases are heard and which judges hear them. He could also make it a priority to revisit cases of "missing persons," hundreds if not thousands of people who were allegedly kidnapped by the government on behalf of local and Western spy agencies.

Advocates for the missing accuse the CIA and Pakistan's powerful spy agency, the ISI, of kidnapping suspected terrorists following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and declining to either charge them or release them. The CIA and the Pakistani government deny the claims.

Chaudhry began to highlight the cases of the missing in the months before he was deposed.

"At that time there were nearly 500 cases of missing persons from all over Pakistan which are now denied of justice," says Amina Janjua, who says her husband is among the kidnapped. She founded the Defense of Human Rights, an organization dedicated to highlighting the issue. She says she has confirmed that more than 600 people have been kidnapped.

It's not clear whether Chaudhry will once again highlight the cases of missing persons, but advocates hope he does.

After 9/11, Musharraf "had to show cooperation. Had to produce people. He had to bring people to hand over to America: 'Here are your terrorists, here are the criminals,'" Janjua said.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan's volatile northwest, the Taliban attacked a NATO supply depot near Peshawar this morning, not long after the prime minister's speech. It was the second attack on a NATO supply depot in two days.

"About 50 gunmen attacked us. ... They first disarmed us and then began setting fire to bulldozers and Humvees," Raza Khan, one of the depot's guards, told Reuters. "A police team arrived after about an hour and an exchange of fire took place for an hour."