Pakistan Strikes Down Amnesty for Politicians
By JANE PERLEZ, New York Times, December 17, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Supreme Court struck down a controversial amnesty on Wednesday that had dismissed corruption allegations against thousands of Pakistan’s politicians, including President Asif Ali Zardari, effectively restoring the cases against them.
As president, Mr. Zardari is granted immunity from prosecution under the Constitution. But the Supreme Court order is expected to reverberate across Pakistan’s rocky political landscape and to further weaken the standing of Mr. Zardari, whom the United States has tried to support as a partner in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Petitions challenging Mr. Zardari’s eligibility as a presidential candidate are expected to follow from the ruling, and about a dozen senior members of Mr. Zardari’s coterie of advisers will most likely face renewed corruption cases, some many years old.
They include the interior minister, Rehman Malik, who is perceived as being particularly close to the Americans; the defense minister, Ahmad Mukhtar; and Mr. Zardari’s chief of staff, Salman Farooki, said Babar Sattar, a lawyer and expert on the amnesty.
Even as the court ruling was awaited Wednesday afternoon, a former law minister, Syed Iftikhar Gillani, said that the government ministers facing renewed corruption charges should resign.
Mr. Zardari and his supporters noted that the cases stem from the 1990s when his wife, Benazir Bhutto, served as prime minister. Mr. Zardari had never been convicted, despite having spent 11 years in jail, proof they say that the cases arrayed against him are political vendettas without substance and aimed at undermining the civilian government’s current agenda, which is pro-American, in the face of a resurgent military.
Farhatullah Babar, the presidential spokesperson, talking to reporters outside the Supreme Court after the ruling, said that Mr. Zardari and the Pakistan Peoples Party respected the court and its verdict. But he stressed the president’s immunity.
“We believe that no criminal case can be instituted or continued in any court against a president or a governor during the term of office,” he said. “So, this doesn’t affect the president of Pakistan. Regarding other matters, the law will take its course and we will see what happens.”
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