Latest on Musharraf - Benazir Bhutto Talks
By CARLOTTA GALL: New York Times, October 5, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Oct. 4 — Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced an amnesty for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and other politicians facing corruption cases today, a measure that would clear the way for a long-negotiated power-sharing agreement that would allow him to stand for re-election Saturday and for Ms. Bhutto to return for parliamentary elections at the end of the year.
The ordinance was agreed by the cabinet but was still awaiting General Musharraf’s signature, local news channels reported late Thursday night.
The amnesty, which would cover all politicians, bankers and bureaucrats charged with corruption offenses during the civilian governments before 1999, is a central demand of Ms. Bhutto, who is planning to return to Pakistan Oct. 18 from self-imposed exile to run for prime minister. As the presidential election has neared, she has accused General Musharraf of stalling, and warned that her party would join the opposition boycott of the election, if the presidential ordinance was not signed.
But late tonight Ms. Bhutto agreed to the final version of the Reconciliation Ordinance, according to Farooq Naik, a senator and senior lawyer from her Pakistan Peoples Party who had been going through the text of the ordinance.
It was nearly the last possible moment. General Musharraf, who has faced opposition within the ruling party over the ordinance, has l one day left until the election Saturday. The Supreme Court is also hearing petitions against his eligibility to stand for election and is expected to give a verdict Friday.
The ordinance is part of a reconciliation package aimed at ushering in a new era of democracy, including fair and transparent elections, General Musharraf said in an interview with the English language television channel, Dawn News, tonight. Despite his many past criticisms of Ms. Bhutto for her alleged corruption, he said none of the cases had been proved over the years, and as the leader of a popular political party, she had a role to play in the return to democracy. He added that the ordinance was not intended just to benefit her, and that all political parties should take part in the elections.
“It will not only affect an individual, but it is a whole package ensuring free and fair elections, that is the package we are attempting,” General Musharraf said.
As part of the transition to democracy, he confirmed that he would resign his military post at the latest on Nov. 15, when his current presidential term expires. “You have to, one day, get into a transition for complete democracy, with the president without uniform and I think this is the right time,” he said.
The ordinance lays out the appointment of a caretaker government to oversee parliamentary elections, and new rules concerning the elections to ensure greater transparency, Mr. Naik said. Also a new procedure will have a parliamentary commission examine charges raised by the anti-corruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau, before a case can be made. Ms. Bhutto has long complained that corruption cases brought against her and her husband were political, he said.
Other concessions Ms. Bhutto was seeking that have been left out for a later phase, another legislator, Latif Khosa said. Ms. Bhutto had demanded that General Musharraf resign from his post of Chief of Army Staff before the election, but he has insisted on only resigning when he is sure his election has been successful. Ms. Bhutto said he would resign his military post before taking the oath of office of president.
Ms. Bhutto had also sought the scrapping of a ban on prime ministers serving a third term, and the removal of a constitutional amendment that allows the president to dissolve parliament and remove a government. That amendment has to be made by two-thirds majority in parliament, Mr. Naik said, and would have to wait until the new parliament is elected.
Also See: Deal is Done; Daily Times
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