Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press
Men danced outside the home of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in Islamabad on Monday after the government agreed to restore him as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
By JANE PERLEZ
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – It was a signal moment in Pakistan’s political development: A huge demonstration forced the restoration of a dismissed chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a symbol of democracy and the rule of law. The army did not stage a coup, but insisted that the government accept a compromise.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, top center in dark jacket, the reinstated Pakistani chief justice, celebrated Monday in Islamabad.
Aamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images
Pakistanis wept Monday for the victims of a suicide bomb attack in Rawalpindi that killed at least 9 people and wounded 18, a grim reminder that the country’s problems are far from solved.
The deal between President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the main opposition party, does not herald a solution to the instability of this nuclear-armed nation. Nor does it ensure the Obama administration’s primary objective of tamping down the powerful Islamic insurgency that threatens both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
How the two Pakistani politicians will resolve their rivalry is but one of many uncertainties. Another is whether the domestic political struggle will allow them – or the military – to focus on their country’s deteriorating security situation.
President Zardari has been severely weakened by his efforts to squelch a national protest and faces defections from the usually cohesive Pakistan Peoples Party. His opponent, Mr. Sharif, emerged as a leader in waiting, but with no clear path to power.
The way ahead is likely to be messy for everyone, including the United States, and could turn out to be a major distraction from efforts to counter the insurgency, which is spreading closer to the main population areas.
But there was hope, American and Pakistani officials pointed out. For a country that has more experience with military rule than with democratic government in its 61 years, there was the possibility that the outpouring of civil society on the streets of Lahore over the weekend presaged a strengthened two-party democratic system, and the beginnings of an independent judiciary.
Mr. Sharif, often held in suspicion in Washington because of his leaning toward Islamic conservatives, was more cooperative than had been thought, some United States officials suggested.
In Washington, there was an awareness that Mr. Sharif’s reputation from the Bush administration of being too close to the Islamists might be overdrawn, and that his relationships with some of the Islamic parties and with Saudi Arabia could be useful, said a foreign policy expert familiar with the thinking of the Obama administration on Pakistan.
Mr. Sharif has told people that he got along well with the Obama administration’s special envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke, during their meeting at Mr. Sharif’s farm last month.
He speaks admiringly of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he met with former President Bill Clinton while in exile in Saudi Arabia.
Pakistani analysts, too, said Mr. Sharif could prove to be a useful partner as Washington tried to talk to what it considered reconcilable elements in the Taliban.
“Who from Pakistan can talk to a faction of the Taliban? It’s Nawaz,” said a senior Pakistani politician who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of alienating Mr. Sharif.
But Mr. Sharif has to play a delicate game because if he is seen as doing Washington’s bidding, he will be discredited among much of his constituency, the politician said.
And Mr. Sharif could also turn out to be unwilling to back some of the tough steps that Washington wants.
One encouraging sign for Washington was the role played in the crisis by the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who let Mr. Zardari know that he could not rely on soldiers to confront the protesters who were threatening to descend on Islamabad to demand the return of Chief Justice Chaudhry.
“The military acted to avert, to correct and to clear the way for full democracy with the center of gravity where it should be – in Parliament and the people,” said Jehangir Karamat, a retired general and former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, in an article for Spearheadresearch.org, his Web site.
General Karamat called the new military approach the Kayani Model, after General Kayani, whom General Karamat is close to. During the crisis, the army chief had been “invisible but around, fully informed and acting through well-timed and effective influence in the right quarter,” General Karamat wrote.
Another positive sign was the nature of the support Mr. Sharif garnered after he drove out of his house in a suburb of Lahore on Sunday through barbed-wire barriers, in defiance of a detention order.
As his bulletproof four-wheel-drive vehicle entered the main thoroughfare of Lahore, it was showered with pink rose petals from the crowd, made up of lawyers, party workers and couples who came with their children to join what turned out to be a celebration of Mr. Sharif’s nerve.
One man in the crowd, Shakeel Ahmad, a laborer, clutched the hand of his 4-year-old son, Muhammad Ahsan. “I am happy if the judiciary is restored,” Mr. Ahmad said.
The support of such a broad range of people is considered a first for Mr. Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, which has generally ceded street power to the Pakistan Peoples Party, and it underscored Mr. Sharif’s political instincts, said Farrukh Saleem, a columnist for The News, a daily newspaper.
“He understood the pulse of the country,” Mr. Saleem said.
Those political instincts could serve the Obama administration well if Mr. Sharif continues to work with lawyers and civil society.
One of the senior advisers to President Obama on Pakistan, Bruce O. Riedel, now the chairman of the administration’s policy review on Pakistan and Afghanistan, has repeatedly said that representative government and civil society need to be reinforced in Pakistan for its people to resist the siren call of the jihadists.
On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked a busy bus terminal in Rawalpindi, outside the Pakistani capital, killing at least 9 people and wounding 18, Pakistani officials said.
In an interview last week, Mr. Sharif, referring to the terrorist threat, said “no single party has the ability to deal with this situation single-handedly.”
“The whole nation has to get together; it has to be a united front,” he said.
Speaking for the government, the new minister for information, Qamar Zaman Kaira, said Monday that it was time for the nation to forget the crisis of the past weeks and to look forward.
Under the deal announced Monday, Mr. Kaira said, the Pakistan Peoples Party would embark on discussions with Mr. Sharif’s party on a range of political reforms proposed under the Charter of Democracy, a document signed by Mr. Sharif in 2006 with Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, who was assassinated in 2007.
Mr. Zardari is the widower of Ms. Bhutto.
A major element of the charter involves getting the major parties to end attempts to undermine each other’s governments.
From Washington’s point of view, such a lofty result would be helpful as it tried to convince Pakistan that the insurgency, not internal politics, was the most important challenge.