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Friday, December 14, 2007

Exile speculation for former Pakistan judge
By Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad
Published: December 10 2007 01:25 Last updated: December 10 2007 01:25
Saudi Arabia has offered to host a pilgrimage to Mecca by Pakistan’s former top judge, prompting speculation over the desert kingdom’s continuing involvement in Pakistani politics.
Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, has, in effect, been under house arrest since President Pervez Musharraf introduced a state of emergency on November 3 and appointed a new chief justice, effectively ending an eight-month rift with Mr Chaudhary.
On Friday, Ali Awadh Asseri, the Saudi ambassador to Islamabad, became the first foreign envoy to meet Mr Chaudhary since emergency rule began, to invite him and his family as guests of the Saudi government for the annual “Hajj” pilgrimage later this month.
On Saturday, the Saudi embassy in Islamabad refuted reports that the meeting was about a safe passage to exile for Mr Chaudhary. However, Pakistani government officials on Sunday said the meeting appeared to be an attempt at an exile arrangement, where Mr Chaudhary travelled for pilgrimage and stayed on in Saudi Arabia.
Sharif reverses election boycott
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s former prime minister, on Sunday appeared to reverse his decision to boycott next month’s national polls in a significant boost to the election process under Pervez Musharraf, the president.
Mr Sharif’s decision came after his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party failed to secure a deal with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto, another former prime minister, to mount a common front against Mr Musharraf.
“Since we could not have a consensus, it is therefore the view that we should not boycott,” said Siddique ul Farooq, a PML-N leader.
Western diplomats said, Mr Sharif’s decision would improve the credibility of the election process.
“This is unusual that even two former prime ministers were denied permission to meet with the former chief justice and then the Saudi ambassador steps in to the picture,” said one official.
Both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, former prime ministers and key opposition leaders, have tried to meet Mr Chaudhary in the past month, only to be stopped by the authorities.
Mr Asseri’s meeting with Mr Chaudhary has revived memories of Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Pakistani politics in 2000 when Mr Sharif was taken to exile in Jeddah, the Saudi port city. Mr Sharif returned home last month in a deal brokered between Mr Musharraf and the Saudi government.
“There is a widespread feeling that the former chief justice could be a key catalyst for an anti-government movement in Pakistan.
The government wants him to leave in order to stabilise the internal situation,” said Tariq Fatemi, a retired senior Pakistani ambassador.
Others believe that the Saudi intervention could not have happened without the urging of the Bush administration, which has backed Mr Musharraf as a key US ally in the war on terror.
“The Saudis are trying to help Pakistan because the US is still favourably disposed towards Musharraf,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a widely respected analyst on security and national affairs.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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