Benazir seeks quid pro quo from Musharraf


Islamabad : Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, currently living in exile after being accused of swindling Rs.90 billion ($1.48 billion), wants all charges against her dropped in return for supporting President Pervez Musharraf’s bid for a second term in office.

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Should this not happen, she has warned that legislators of her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) would quit the national and four provincial assemblies ahead of the Oct 6 presidential elections.

Bhutto “has conveyed to the presidency that for their future cooperation the government must immediately enact a law to clear her from all charges of corruption and misuse of authority”, The News reported Tuesday in an article headlined “Benazir dying for a clean sheet before 6th”.

“At present, government authorities, in consultation with the PPP leaders including the party’s legal experts, are preparing a draft legislation to provide immunity from any legal proceeding to the politicians who ruled the country during the late 1980s and the early 1990s,” the newspaper added.

Towards this, Bhutto confidante Makhdoom Amin Fahim has held a series of meetings with ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) president Shujaat Hussain and top presidential aides to ensure the proposed legislation is enacted before the presidential elections.

The Pakistani parliament is currently not in session, which means that the immunity would have to be granted through an ordinance.

Quoting unnamed sources, The News said that Bhutto “has set the condition that the proposed amendment should be introduced before the presidential election on October 6. Otherwise, the PPP members of parliament might also opt to quit the assemblies.

“The proposed law, which is being treated as a ‘secret’ document, if (it) gets through would not name Benazir Bhutto and her spouse, Asif Ali Zardari, but the couple would be the main beneficiary of such an amnesty.”

According to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the couple is accused of corruption worth Rs.90 billion.

Bhutto is also demanding an amendment in the law that prevents prime ministers from serving for more than two terms.

“However, on this issue both the presidency and the PML are in unison that this demand should be left to the future parliament to decide,” The News said.

Bhutto has tasked PPP Senator Farooq Naik with finalising the indemnity law. The law ministry has apparently sent a draft to the senator, who, however, has denied receiving this.

“Benazir’s decision to take a solo flight and evolve her own strategy on the thorny issue of the presidential election is also part of the ongoing efforts to strike a deal as soon as possible. The PPP will finalise its strategy on the presidential election on October 3…(the date being) fixed to give maximum time to the presidential camp to decide on Benazir’s demands,” The News said.

Till a few months ago, it was widely believed that Bhutto and another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who also lives in exile, would dramatically return together to take on Musharraf. Sharif, however, broke ranks and returned home last month — only to be sent packing for the second time. Bhutto has already made clear she would return to Pakistan later this month.