Nirupama Subramanian

Agreement causes disquiet in PML(Q)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto said in London on Thursday that after the announcement of the National Reconciliation Ordinance by the government, she expected a “smooth” return to Pakistan, scheduled for October 18.

The ordinance is expected to grant amnesty to her and several other political leaders and government employees against whom cases were registered between 1985 and 1999.

The ordinance is expected to bring about several changes in procedures for arrest of parliamentarians, and in the working of the anti-corruption National Accountability Bureau.

But Ms. Bhutto said at a press conference her party was waiting to see the wording of the ordinance, and if it was the same as the two sides had agreed on, “we have an agreement for a transition towards democracy”.

She described the ordinance as “Stage 1” of an agreement with Gen. Musharraf, and said her other demands, such as doing away with the President’s powers to dissolve Parliament, would be discussed during “Stage 2” following the presidential elections.

There is no word yet from the PPP or the government about Ms. Bhutto’s demand for removal of a bar on two-time Prime Ministers like herself assuming the office a third time.

Within the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q), Gen. Musharraf’s agreement with the PPP appears to have caused considerable disquiet. According to media reports, the Cabinet was to meet several times on Wednesday to approve the ordinance, but failed to do so as disagreements continued with the PML (Q) over it.

On Thursday too, Gen. Musharraf was in discussions with the PML (Q) on the ordinance late into the evening.

The News reported that PML (Q) president Chaudhary Shujat Hussain who is opposed to any agreement with Ms. Bhutto, described the ordinance as a “bitter pill” for his party.

Insult, says Sharif

The former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has condemned the proposed presidential ordinance granting amnesty from corruption charges to Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto and a host of others as “an insult” to the nation.

In a statement released by the Pakistan Muslim League (N) here, Mr. Sharif said it was meant to serve the interests of individuals.

But a deal with the PPP by itself may not guarantee the President a smooth passage to another term.

In the Supreme Court on Thursday, counsel for the petitioners, two of whom are candidates in the October 6 presidential election, argued their case for a stay on the election.

The Attorney-General said a stay on such an important constitutional procedure would turn Pakistan into a laughing stock and cause great embarrassment to the nation.

One of the judges asked the Attorney-General to explain what would cause greater embarrassment and disruption to the nation: staying the elections at this stage for a few days until the court disposes the petitions, or a situation in which the election is held, Gen. Musharraf is elected, the Court continues to hear the case and in the eventuality that it decides against him, has to ask him to step down.

The case will continue on Friday.