Nirupama Subramanian

An attempt to deter Benazir from staging a political comeback: PPP

Warrant first against Benazir by GovernmentArmy should be out of governance: SharifPPP to take appropriate remedy

ISLAMABAD: The People's Party of Pakistan has reacted angrily to the arrest warrants a court issued on Saturday against its leader Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari, linking the action to her declared plans for a political comeback in time for the next national elections.

"The government has resorted to such underhand tactics after the signing of the Charter of Democracy between the PPP and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League. They are manipulating the judicial process to deter Benazir Bhutto. But Benazir Bhutto will not be deterred," Farhatullah Babar, the PPP leader's spokesman told The Hindu .

The Islamabad District and Sessions Court issued warrants for the arrest of Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Zardari for their failure to respond to summons it issued last month. The court issued the summons on complaints by the Government's National Accountability Bureau alleging false declaration of assets by the couple before the 1996 National Assembly elections.

It was strange that in a case against Ms. Bhutto and her husband pertaining to the 1996 election, the complainant was not the Election Commission but the NAB, Mr. Babar said.

The court has asked the Interior Ministry to produce them before the court on July 3 for submitting false statements to the Election Commission.

Ms. Bhutto has lived in London since 1999 and has not returned for fear of arrest on arrival in a number of corruption cases against her. Most of these cases were filed by the government of Mr. Sharif, her newfound political ally. The NAB case is the first against her by the Musharraf government.

Ms. Bhutto's husband, who was released last year after eight years in prison, lives in New York. On Friday, Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Sharif he has lived in self-exile in Saudi Arabia after General Musharraf deposed him met in Dubai to discuss their Charter of Democracy, a wide-ranging plan of action for restoring democracy in Pakistan that they signed in London last month.

In comments to a private Pakistan television channel later, Mr. Sharif said he and Ms. Bhutto were determined to return to Pakistan before the next elections. "It is not the job of the army to run the government. The army should be kept out of governance," Mr. Sharif said.

The two parties also want to show that their alliance remains unaffected despite persistent rumours that Ms. Bhutto is in touch with the government to have the cases against her annulled and cut a deal with President Pervez Musharraf.

Last week, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Niazi said Ms. Bhutto had spoken "directly" with President Musharraf over the phone "12 times", an allegation that the PPP denied vehemently.

"We challenged him to produce evidence of the telephone conversations, but he could not. All these are tactics aimed at intimidating Ms. Bhutto and to create a rift between the PPP and the PML(N)," Mr Babar said.

The PPP would take an "appropriate remedy" with respect to the arrest warrants when it received the court orders, Mr. Babar said.