Power-sharing deal is likely in Pakistan

Corruption charges against Bhutto, others would be dropped

October 03, 2007|By Kim Barker | Kim Barker,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The Pakistani government is expected to drop all corruption charges against exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, an indication that a power-sharing deal has been reached that would help embattled President Gen. Pervez Musharraf hold onto power.

Musharraf made another key move yesterday, naming his likely successor as army chief. Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, a former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, will become vice chief of the army Monday and take the top job when Musharraf leaves it, a military statement said.

All criminal charges pending for 10 years or more soon will be dropped against Bhutto, her husband and other former political and government leaders, said Tariq Azim, the country's deputy information minister. A Cabinet meeting was held to finalize the agreement late yesterday.

Lawyers and analysts criticized the move, which overshadowed the opposition's attempt to deny legitimacy to Musharraf yesterday when dozens of lawmakers resigned from parliament.

The remaining parliament members will likely elect Musharraf to another five-year presidential term Saturday.

"We want to start a new era, a new chapter, where people don't have to face the courts every day of their lives just because of political vindictiveness," Azim said.

In recent weeks, Musharraf has managed to face down mounting opposition and apparently carve out a way to stay in office. The increasingly unpopular president, who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999 and championed an anti-corruption movement, has said he would step down as army chief, but only if re-elected as president.

A power-sharing deal appears increasingly likely between Musharraf and Bhutto, a two-time premier who fled Pakistan after corruption charges were leveled at her. They have been negotiating for months. One of Bhutto's key demands has been that corruption charges against her and other politicians be dropped.

Bhutto has been accused of illegally buying land in Pakistan and accumulating money in overseas accounts while in power. In 2003, she was convicted of money laundering in Switzerland and told to pay $11 million to the Pakistani government. That conviction was overturned, but the allegations are still under investigation.

Lawyers who have been spearheading an anti-Musharraf movement, saying his continued rule is unconstitutional, criticized any decision to grant amnesty to Bhutto and others, who would include another exiled prime minister, his brother and the leader of a political party accused of murder and corruption.

Kim Barker writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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