NEW YORk - Pakistan’s outgoing Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry gets mixed reviews in American newspapers for his performance as the country’s top judge, but they all agree on one point: He strengthened the judiciary during his ‘tumultuous’ tenure.

Chaudhry became an international figure after the 2007 popular movement led by the lawyers reinstated him to his position as the chief justice.

“To some Pakistanis, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry will always be the ‘dictator slayer’ — the judge who defied the military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, helped evict him from office and went on to repurpose a once supine judiciary as a fiercely independent force,” The New York Times said in a front page dispatch on Saturday.  “Over a tumultuous eight-year stint, he fired a civilian prime minister, hauled once-untouchable generals before his court and inspired many Pakistanis to believe that, at last, the judiciary might be interested in their problems,” Declan Walsh, the Times correspondent, wrote from London.

“But as he stepped down as chief justice this week, his failures — and the broader flaws of a disturbingly weak Pakistani legal system — also loom large,” according to the dispatch.

“His critics accuse Justice Chaudhry of abusing the courts to pursue political vendettas, turning a blind eye to corruption inside his own family and amassing personal power at the price of good law — and even democratic stability,” it said.  “For all his revolutionary rhetoric, Justice Chaudhry singularly failed to reform the country’s crisis-ridden lower courts, where more than a million cases are pending in a shambolic system ridden with delays, corruption and systemic weaknesses.  “At a time when the state’s authority is under vigorous assault from militants offering an alternative form of justice, that is no small problem.

Walsh wrote, “In debating Justice Chaudhry’s legacy, Pakistanis are divided between those who say he saved democracy and those who felt he became a tyrant of sorts himself. Both views are supportable.  “His departure is the third act in a wholesale change in the leaders who forged Pakistan’s tumultuous path in recent years. Since September, President Asif Ali Zardari and the head of the Pakistani Army, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, have stepped down.

“Now that Justice Chaudhry is going, how much of his legacy will endure depends partly on his successor, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani. A less flamboyant figure, Justice Jillani will also have less time to act: He is due to retire when he reaches 65 in July.  “Still, the significance of one act is beyond dispute: Justice Chaudhry’s refusal in March 2007 to step down after being fired by General Musharraf, who had raised him to the chief justice’s seat just two years before. “That gesture of defiance set Pakistan on a bracing new trajectory. It triggered a sweeping protest movement that, 18 months later, led to General Musharraf’s departure, but also promised something more profound: an end to the judiciary’s image as the handmaiden of military rulers.  “For decades, pliant judges had rubber-stamped successive military takeovers in Pakistan. After he was reinstated as chief justice in 2009, Justice Chaudhry recast that relationship along new lines.

“His weapon of choice was to act suo moto. Under Justice Chaudhry’s guidance, judges denounced political corruption, upbraided senior ministers and police officers in court, and intervened in a dizzying spectrum of public issues large and small, including the price of flour, Karachi’s traffic chaos and the plight of the country’s transsexuals.

A former army chief was grilled about his role in an election-rigging scheme; senior officers faced stern demands to halt human rights abuses in Balochistan; even the feared intelligence agencies were forced to produce their emaciated detainees before the Supreme Court.

“General Musharraf’s case is the most stark. Once Pakistan’s supreme leader, today he languishes under house arrest, facing treason charges that carry a potential death sentence...”

“Despite the public chastisement of acting senior generals, none were jailed. The army’s ‘kill-and-dump’ policy against separatists in Balochistan continues. And in other matters, the court often favored publicity stunts over substance.

An actress caught with two bottles of wine was pursued. But the judges were largely silent in the face of clerics who delivered hate-filled speeches that invited attacks on Ahmadis and other minorities. And the court’s prosecutorial energies seemed most focused on a softer target — Mr. Zardari, long a rival of Justice Chaudhry.  “Ordinary Pakistanis, excited by Justice Chaudhry’s populist court initiatives, were more indulgent of his tactics. Court petitions for suo moto cases rose to around 90,000 in an 18-month period of 2010 and 2011, from 450 in 2004...

“Justice Chaudhry’s retirement is likely to be welcomed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In opposition, Mr Sharif wholeheartedly supported the judge’s flamboyant court drives.

Calling Iftikhar Chaudhry ‘assertive’, The Los Angeles Times said, “He’s credited with strengthening the judiciary and making it a force to be reckoned with among politicians and bureaucrats. But he was also instrumental in the resignation of the popularly elected Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, forced to quit after refusing to reopen a corruption case against then-President Asif Ali Zardari at the behest of the Supreme Court.

The LATimes said, “He was credited with using his high-profile position to pressure the army and government on issues of corruption, illegal detentions and human rights. But critics also say he dipped into the political arena in areas beyond the judiciary’s domain.

The Washington Post, while noting his judicial activism, cited his critics as accusing him of wading into political areas outside of the judiciary’s domain.