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.

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