In a devastating blow to President Pervez Musharraf, the winners of last month's election yesterday vowed to join forces and reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges sacked during the imposition of the state of emergency last November.
The announcement came as the late Benazir Bhutto's party, now led by her widower Asif Zardari, finalised a coalition government with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The once bitter rivals now hold nearly two-thirds of the National Assembly, raising the prospect of a parliament hostile to the deeply unpopular Mr Musharraf.
"Iftikhar Chaudhry will absolutely be restored [within 30 days of the next government being formed]," said Nadir Chaudhri, Mr Sharif's spokesman. "The restoration of the judiciary is an issue on which the people of Pakistan delivered a mandate. It is important for Pakistan's future as a constitutionally viable state, so that we can block future adventurers from taking reckless decisions."
As the two parties met, lawyers returned to the streets of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to mark the anniversary of Mr Chaudhry's first sacking in March 2007. The chief justice was reinstated last July after months of protests, led by lawyers and supported by opposition parties. But he was sacked again four months later when Mr Musharraf declared emergency rule and hand-picked a fresh bench of judges.
In the capital yesterday, hundreds of lawyers and opposition activists, bearing black flags and armbands, advanced on the deposed Chief Justice's home – where he has been under house arrest for the past four months – chanting anti-Musharraf slogans. They were beaten back by policemen using tear gas.
The return of Chief Justice Chaudhry and the independent judiciary would be a major setback for the President. He has insisted there was no possibility of their restoration, and called Mr Chaudhry "third rate" and "the scum of the earth".