Updated: December 19, 2009 01:13 IST

Pakistan in a tizzy as NRO verdict is implemented

Nirupama Subramanian
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LAW CATCHING UP: Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik faces arrest on graft charges. Mr. Malik was protected by a controvercial amnesty Bill which lapsed recently. Photo: AP
LAW CATCHING UP: Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik faces arrest on graft charges. Mr. Malik was protected by a controvercial amnesty Bill which lapsed recently. Photo: AP

Two days after Pakistan's Supreme Court annulled the National Reconciliation Ordinance, the Pakistan People's Party government was in complete turmoil as its Ministers faced possible arrest, summons from accountability courts and restrictions on travel abroad.

On Friday, an accountability court in Karachi summoned Interior Minister Rehman Malik to appear before it on January 8 after prosecutors of the anti-corruption National Accountability Bureau moved an application for reopening a corruption case against him.

Initial reports stated that as the Minister was an "absconder" in the misappropriation case before the October 2007 NRO terminated the charges against him, the court had issued an arrest warrant for him.

A lawyer for Mr. Malik hurriedly went to the court to seek suspension of the reported warrant.

But it turned out that the judge had not signed a warrant. After studying the case for the whole day, he issued notice to Mr. Malik to appear before him next month.

Mr. Malik's case was among scores of cases that NAB has reopened across the country.

"The machine has started to move, and the pre-NRO position is being restored. Those who had convictions, arrest warrants, or whose accounts were lying frozen before the NRO, they are all being restored to that position," NAB spokesman Ghazni Khan told The Hindu.

The Karachi accountability court has reopened 52 cases and among those it has summoned is a top adviser to the President, Salman Farooqui, who heads the President's Secretariat.

Apprehending arrest, Mr. Farooqui got himself anticipatory bail in three corruption cases in which he is an accused, putting down Rs.5 lakh for each bail bond.

The Lahore accountability court, meanwhile, reopened 32 corruption cases, summoning Nusrat Bhutto, mother of the late Benazir Bhutoo, to appear before it on January 12.

The ageing Ms. Bhutto, who lives in Dubai and is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, is accused in a case of assets disproportionate to known sources of income. Another PPP leader, Jehangir Badr, has been summoned on December 23, and is an accused in a case in which President Asif Ali Zardari is also an accused.

While Mr. Zardari cannot be summoned as he has presidential immunity from prosecution, his position is certain to become increasingly difficult as the law closes down on several figures in his inner circle.

The swiftness with which NAB has begun to implement the Supreme Court's orders against important people in the ruling party appears to have paralysed the government, which is now faced with a rapid erosion of it authority. With the Prime Minister and President both making no public comment about the bizarre spectacle now folding in Pakistan, commentators are wondering who is in charge of the country.

In a belated move to reclaim some of its lost influence, the government ordered an enquiry into Thursday's night incident in which Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar was prevented from boarding a PIA plane to China for an official visit.

The Interior Secretary and the additional inspector of the Federal Investigations Agency, which is in charge of immigration have been suspended.

Immigration officials stopped Mr. Mukhtar from leaving after NAB announced it had put 248 beneficiaries of the NRO on the "exit control list" to prevent them from fleeing the country. Mr. Mukhtar's name appears on the list of NRO beneficiaries.

However, NAB clarified on Friday, that only 53 people were on the list, and the Defence Minister's name was not on it.

The Interior Minister and Defence Minister were both in a meeting with Mr. Zardari until late in the evening, as he consulted a close circle of confidantes on how to deal with the fast-developing crisis.

Speculation is rife that Mr. Zardari may have no choice but to give the go-ahead to the Prime Minister to drop tainted Ministers and officials, and Mr. Malik's name heads that list. Should this happen, the demands for Mr. Zardari's resignation are certain to increase.

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