Crisis averted in Pakistan

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. A spectacular climb-down by Pakistan's government early this morning averted what many feared would be a violent day in the nation's capital. At dawn, with just hours to go before a planned march on Islamabad, the Prime Minister Youssef Raza Gilani, went before the media.


MULLINS: Gilani told the country that the government will reinstate Pakistan's former top judge. That move brought an end to the street protests, but the crisis has left scars on this troubled nation. The World's Laura Lynch reports from Islamabad.

LAURA LYNCH: The planned protests turned into a pilgrimage today. People came by motorcycle, car, bus, and on foot, climbing to the hilltop home of their hero, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry. The crowd was full of lawyers in their black suits; they had spearheaded the two-year long campaign to have Chaudry reinstated.


LYNCH: Coor-rah Dalen, a young lawyer from Lahore, smiled even as she spoke of the sacrifices she said so many had to make to fight for an independent judiciary. Chaudry became a powerful symbol when he and 60 other judges were fired by former president Pervez Musharraf. But it was Zardari's refusal to overturn Chaudry's dismissal that led Pakistan to the brink of crisis. Zardari finally relented. The crisis has been averted, but politics in Pakistan may never be the same. Zardari himself is facing growing criticism from within his own party. Two ministers have resigned. Other stalwarts are speaking out about his leadership of the party that still reveres the memory of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto. Naheed Khan cradled Bhutto in her lap as she lay dying after being assassinated nearly 15 months ago.

NAHEED KHAN: This party is like a mother to me. Legacy of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto must be protected. That's my moral�my duty that I should go all out to protect her legacy.

LYNCH: So she and her husband, Senator Safdar Abbasi, are trying to do just that by calling for Zardari to mend his ways. They say he's become aloof, out of touch, and too hungry for power.

SAFDAR ABBASI: The gulf between the people of Pakistan and the government � that is growing.

LYNCH: Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif leapt in to fill that gulf, becoming the face of popular protest. Political commentator Mohammed Malick says it has weakened, but not destroyed, Zardari's leadership.

MALICK: It will be a much-reduced role. I think he's going to lie low for a while, but he has no intentions of letting go. You see, he never let it become an issue, whether a head of state should be the head of a political party, and that thing was never brought on the table. So as long as he retains that, he does retain a lot of influence.

LYNCH: But why fight to lead a nation that's crippled by a wrecked economy, a growing threat from Taliban terrorists, and constant tension with neighboring India? Malick says it all about the money.

MALICK: Whoever is in power, whether it's a bureaucrat or whether it's a politician, what you see on paper � his privileges and his influence on paper � is nowhere near what they wield in real life, unlike the West, where when you go into the public office, you usually go out poorer. Over here, when you go into the public office, your life changes. There's a lot of corruption; but more than corruption is the absence of the fear of accountability.

LYNCH: Both Zardari and Sharif have been plagued by corruption charges, and both have suffered from protracted battles with the courts. Indeed, part of the reason Zardari resisted reinstating Choudry is out of fear that the Chief Justice may dismiss an amnesty protecting the President from prosecution. On the outskirts of Islamabad, a barber trims Marris Mahee's salt and pepper hair. The barbershop is a wooden trestle lying over top of a trough filled with garbage and human waste. Mahee and others who live in this slum don't care so much who the president is.


LYNCH: He's just glad the fight is over so the politicians can focus on helping the poor to eat. Not for him the lofty political stands over the rule of law, nor the international worries about Pakistan's faltering fight against the Taliban. Mahee and so many others here just want to eat, to get a job, and they want the government to just get on with it. Yet tonight, there was another bombing in the nearby city of Rawalpindi, a deadly reminder that even now, with the end of this political crisis, there is no real return to stability in the country. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch in Islamabad.