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Monday, October 8, 2007

Bhutto amnesty deal 'political trick'

Bruce Loudon, South Asia correspondent October 09, 2007
A PLOT that trapped exiled Benazir Bhutto into agreeing to a controversial amnesty deal before Pakistan's election has been revealed amid claims that allies of President Pervez Musharraf would be unconcerned if the deal were ruled unlawful.
The plot was disclosed yesterday by General Musharraf's Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, and the president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.
"The Pakistan People's Party (Ms Bhutto's party) played games with us and we played our game, which we won," said Chaudhry Shujaat of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, signed by General Musharraf hours before the start of polling, which granted indemnity to Ms Bhutto, her husband Asif Zardari, and their immediate allies over corruption charges.
The deal had the effect of stopping the PPP from ordering its MPs to resign their seats along with other opposition groups.
The PPP's parliamentarians limited their protest again General Musharraf to abstaining from voting.
According to Mr Aziz and Mr Chaudhry Shujaat, that was the real purpose behind the deal, and a remarkably candid PML boss added: "If the higher judiciary strikes off the NRO, we have no obligation to renew it or bring any other law in its place."
The Dawn newspaper said: "Pakistan Muslim League lawmakers had been assured by legal experts in a late-night party meeting that the promulgation of the ordinance would be a temporary move which would be politically beneficial (for the government side) in the presidential election, and would not have to be necessarily implemented."
Mr Aziz claimed the Government had deliberately set out to split the opposition by promulgating the NRO amnesty deal on the eve of the election. It succeeded. Deep fissures have appeared within the PPP and across the opposition movement over Ms Bhutto's willingness to make a deal with the Government.
A spokesman for General Musharraf immediately sought to distance the President from the claims. "The President continues to work for political reconciliation," he said.
"It's wrong to say that the President wanted to get something done with the co-operation of the opposition and had changed his mind after getting re-elected for another term."
PPP boss Makhdoom Amin Fahim - who failed to win a single vote as a candidate in the presidential election - insisted that "no one can deceive the PPP".
Information Secretary Sherry Rahman said it was "beyond understanding what were the motives which these people wanted to gain through airing such unethical statements".
Meanwhile, sources close to General Musharraf said, amid uncertainty over the Supreme Court's decision over his eligibility to contest last weekend's election, that he had placed on hold plans to hand over his role as army chief to Lieutenant General Ashfaq Kiyani.
Yesterday General Kyani was sworn in as vice-chief of army staff. But in an earlier statement to the Supreme Court, General Musharraf said he would abandon his army job some timebetween his re-election and his scheduled swearing-in on November 16.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on General Musharraf's eligibility on October 17.
* Fears of strife in the frontier region of Waziristan heightened yesterday after at least 65 jihadi militants were killed, along with 20 Pakistani soldiers and scores of civilians.
Fierce fighting continued last night, with the area's main town, Miramshah, under attack from militants as Pakistan's army brought up Cobra helicopter gunships, fixed-wing aircraft and heavy artillery.
Waziristan is where al-Qa'ida is regrouping under Osama bin Laden's leadership. The militants, fiercely opposed to General Musharraf, are linked to al-Qa'ida and the Taliban.
Last month, bin Laden called for all-out war against General Musharraf, and analysts said militant activity in the area had increased significantly since then.

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