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Govt in talks with CJ as way out of crisis

March 16, 2007

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KARACHI, March 15: Shaken by spontaneous outpourings of public support for the chief justice, the government has nervously initiated talks with Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry for a mutually acceptable resolution of what has been described as the country’s most bitter judicial crisis, it emerged on Thursday.

Sources in the presidency said it was too early to say what the outcome of the talks would be.

They refused to divulge details of the negotiations.

President Gen Pervez Musharraf made Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry ‘non-functional’ on March 9 and sent a reference against him to the Supreme Judicial Council under Article 209 of the Constitution.

The president’s action and subsequent detention of the chief justice — red-facedly denied by cabinet ministers — caused the lawyers’ community to go on the warpath.

A top presidential aide conceded that the government had only itself to blame for the crisis of confidence it was currently suffering.

“It was never our intention to place the suspended chief justice under house arrest, hold him incommunicado and stop his children from going to school. This was completely mishandled down the line by more-loyal-than-the-king officials. But he also made things difficult for us by behaving like a politician. Contrary to what is being said in the media, no heads (on the government side) will roll,” he said in remarks that at once indicate an acknowledgment of oversight and a lack of contrition.

The sources in the presidency said the March 9 action against the suspended chief justice had taken even cabinet ministers by surprise.

“As a result, everybody responded to frantic queries by the media according to their understanding of the situation. It should also be made clear that the prime minister, being the chief executive of the country, does not have to take the cabinet into confidence on such decisions.”

They, however, refused to name the government lawyers who had okayed the presidential reference against the chief justice. They added that the government had weighed the pros and cons of the reference.

“Our problem is that under the Constitution a presidential reference against the chief justice remains a secret document until the Supreme Judicial Council takes a decision on it one way or the other. Our hands are tied while the opposition parties are having a field day,” they said.