Graft Amnesty To Zardari Expires; President Says Won't Be Affected

A controversial law which scrapped graft cases against Asif Ali Zardari and his key allies expired on Saturday, but the President felt it will not affect him as the Constitution provides "indemnity" to the person
graft amnesty to zardari expires president says...
PTI November 28, 2009 14:56 IST

A controversial law which scrapped graft cases against Asif Ali Zardari and his key allies expired on Saturday, but the President felt it will not affect him as the Constitution provides "indemnity" to the person holding the top post in the country. 

"According to our legal team, the President has indemnity and (his) eligibility cannot be challenged now," Zardari said hours before the lapse of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which was issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf two years ago. 

In an order issued in July, the Supreme Court had said the NRO would lapse on November 28 if the government did not get it ratified by Parliament. 

The PPP-led government was forced to abandon plans to get the law endorsed by parliament due to pressure from political parties. 

Under the ordinance promulgated by Musharraf on October 5, 2007 -- a day before the presidential polls which he swept -- in an apparent gesture of reconciliation with political parties, graft cases against ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated two months later, her husband Zardari and many other politicians were quashed. The PPP won subsequent elections in February 2008, restoring civilian rule. 

Zardari's critics have been saying that corruption cases quashed under the NRO would be reopened after the law expires. 

However, the beleaguered President's supporters in the ruling PPP have said cases scrapped under the NRO are "past and closed transactions" and Zardari cannot be prosecuted as long as he is President. 

Zardari said in an interview with a TV news channel that his eligibility as a candidate for the post of President was not challenged even by his opponents in last year's presidential election. 

The President, who yesterday transferred control over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, also said he intended to give up his sweeping powers to dismiss the premier, dissolve Parliament and appoint the service chiefs by the end of the year. 

The 17th constitutional amendment, which was pushed through by Musharraf to give the President these powers, will be done away with during December, he said. 

Such a change cannot be brought about by the President alone and it requires the backing of a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament, he said. 

"Constitution is too serious a business to rush... Changes that have to be made in the Constitution should be unanimous," Zardari said. 

"We wanted to abolish the 17th amendment from day one but we wanted to do it through a unanimous decision...," he added. 

Replying to a question about the demand for action against Musharraf, Zardari said: "Let the court decide about him." 

In response to another question about Pakistan's policy for relations with India, Zardari said he wanted to see a European Union-like bloc comprising Pakistan, China, India and other countries for the socio-economic development of the region. 

At the same time, he said, Pakistan with its 170 million people and having all necessary resources, cannot be weakened by anyone if "we are internally strong." 

Referring to the war against terrorism, Zardari said the failure of "peace deals" led to the military operations against militants in Swat and Waziristan. 

"The war against terrorism is now being considered in Pakistan as its own war," he said. 

Replying to a question on reports about secret negotiations between the US and the Taliban, he said: "We are getting this news through the media and Pakistan is not on board (on this issue)." 

He also said the US has not provided any evidence to Pakistan about its claims on Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar being present in Karachi or Quetta. 

Peace in Afghanistan was of vital interest to Pakistan, Zardari added. 

The US is thinking of reviewing its policy on drone attacks, which will enable Pakistan to secure drone technology and launch such attacks on its own, he added. PTI

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