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Updated: November 29, 2009 01:55 IST

Pak. Amnesty ordinance lapses

Nirupama Subramanian
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Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari
AP Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari

The controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance, under which President Asif Ali Zardari and thousands of others received amnesty from corruption charges against them, lapsed on Saturday, raising questions about the potential implications for the Pakistan People’s Party leader’s political future and for the government.

The PPP-led government was compelled to let the NRO lapse after it became clear earlier this month it would not be able to have the law endorsed by Parliament. Even its allies deserted it on this issue.

In July, the Supreme Court had set November 28 as the deadline for parliamentary approval for the NRO and 36 other ordinances decreed by the former President, Pervez Musharraf, in 2007.

Mr. Zardari repromulagated 28 of these ordinances on Friday night, including the National Command Authority Ordinance, which he amended to make Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani its chairman. The NCA controls Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The government had already announced it had no plan of reissuing the NRO.

According to legal experts, with the NRO ceasing to exist, cases against Mr. Zardari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and many other political personalities and bureaucrats now stand resurrected.

But it is the government that has to decide whether to prosecute these cases.

In any case, Mr. Zardari enjoys constitutional immunity from prosecution, a point he made in an interview to a television channel shown on Friday night. He also pointed out that under the Constitution, his election to the highest office could not be challenged on grounds of eligibility.

His political opponents, however, believe that the issue is beyond legal niceties, and that he must step down on moral grounds.

List of beneficiaries

Some days ago, the government made public a list of beneficiaries under the NRO. The entire list runs to over thousands of names.

Aside from Mr. Zardari, Salman Farooqui, a top presidential adviser, some Cabinet members including Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, Ambassador to the U.S. Hussain Haqqani, High Commissioner to the U.K. Wajid Shamsul Hussain and some other PPP worthies were in the list.

The outing of the list has put more pressure on Mr. Zardari, and analysts believe that at the very least, he may have to shed the executive powers of his office, contained in the 17th Amendment that was brought in by General Musharraf to increase his own powers as President. In the television interview, Mr. Zardari said the 17th amendment would be repealed in December.

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