Saturday, April 7, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Conviction of Benazir, Zardari set aside
Tahir Ikram

Islamabad, April 6
Pakistan’s Supreme Court today set aside corruption conviction against former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and ordered a retrial.

Ms Bhutto, living abroad in self-exile, and Zardari, jailed in Pakistan since 1996 on other charges, had appealed against a 1999-conviction by a special accountability court that sentenced them to five years in jail and fined them $8.6 million for accepting kickbacks from a Swiss firm.

The couple was also disqualified from holding public office.

“We accept the titled appeal (by Bhutto), set aside the judgment and order a retrial of the case by a competent court,” Judge Bashir Jehangiri said.

Ms Bhutto told Sky Television in Britain that a big hurdle to her return to Pakistan had been removed by the judgment and that she would now discuss “the date” with her colleagues.

“I am planning to call my colleagues over for a consultation as to setting the date (for my return). One big hurdle to my return has been removed and it’s important for me to go back and be part of the democratic process in my country,” Ms Bhutto said.

Raja Muhammad Bashir, Prosecutor-General for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the government’s white collar crime-fighting agency, told mediapersons that he respected the judgment. “We will abide by the verdict and we will follow it...”, he said.

Ms Bhutto’s lawyer, Mr Farooq Hameed Naik, told mediapersons that he was satisfied but would have been happier if the couple had been acquitted by the seven-member bench of the Supreme Court, which had heard arguments daily since February 26.

“I am satisfied but not happy. I was expecting acquittal,” he said as Ms Bhutto supporters broke into a cheer outside the court. Reuters


Musharraf ready for talks on Kashmir

New Delhi, April 6
Declaring that he would be “flexible” in a bid to resolve the Kashmir issue, Pakistan’s military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, has said India and Pakistan should begin dialogue on Kashmir and all other issues without any conditions.

“Kashmir is the main issue. All other issues are irritants. If India wants to take them simultaneously, we have no problem....but if India thinks that we should discuss all other issues and not Kashmir, we are not for it,” he told M.J. Akbar, Eidtor-in-Chief of Indian newspaper Asian Age, in an interview.

“Let’s talk if we need to resolve this Kashmir dispute. I will be flexible. Let India be flexible on whatever it wants to do on Kashmir,” he said.

Maintaining that conditions prior to a dialogue could be counter-productive, Gen Musharraf said: “I think the issue is to start a dialogue” as conditions will have an effect on it.

Observing that there were three parties to the Kashmir issue — India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris, he said New Delhi and Islamabad could at least start the talks even if Kashmiris were not there initially.

“Let the APHC come here, let us at least tell them that we are not doing something behind their backs. India and Pakistan will talk and ultimately the APHC will be included. That’s the way of nicely resolving the Kashmir dispute, he said.

General Pervez Musharraf said he had no inhibitions in saluting Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee if he came to Pakistan and described the Indian leader as a person whom he would like to “trust”.

“I have no inhibitions in saluting Mr Vajpayee. He is elder to me. If he comes now I will salute him again and shake hands with him,” General Musharraf said refuting reports that he had declined to shake hands with Mr Vajpayee during his visit to Lahore in February, 1999.

Asked if he “trusted” Mr Vajpayee, he said: “I would like to trust him because to me he looks as a person who would like to resolve the Kashmir dispute.”

Recalling a statement by Mr Vajpayee earlier this year that included the Prime Minister’s views on Kashmir, General, Musharraf said: “Mr Vajpayee’s body language and his statement “show that he really wants to move ahead. I would also like to move ahead.”

The Pakistani military ruler, however, said he did not trust the BJP. “I do not have that kind of trust in people around Mr Vajpayee”, he said.

General Musharraf said Mr Vajpayee appeared to have weakened after the Tehelka episode and the “loss” he had suffered because of that could be “covered” by the resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue.

General Musharraf replied to questions on a wide range of issues including the nuclear issue, CTBT and internal developments in Pakistan.

Referring to UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir calling for plebiscite, General Musharraf said: “One would like to show flexibility once the dialogue process starts.”

Asked if he would consider Mr Vajpayee’s ceasefire decision a window of opportunity on Kashmir, he said the measure that the Indian Prime Minister and his government was talking about was “a hoax”.

“There is no ceasefire. Ceasefire is on the Line of Control (LoC). We are not firing and the Indians are not firing. The ceasefire is holding at the LoC.”

Asked as to what extent Pakistan under his leadership was ready to change its committed policy lines in an effort to get peace with India, he said: “I would not like to comment on that.”

To a question if nuclearisation of India and Pakistan had materially altered the equation in the context of any future war, he said: “Maybe it has brought about a degree of stability in that both India and Pakistan must realise with nuclear capability on both sides, we must act much more responsibly and not enter into a conflict again.”

On CTBT, General Musharraf said the signing of the treaty by Pakistan was not related to India initialling it. “I am not really bothering about what India is doing on CTBT. We have our own problems. We are addressing the CTBT issue in relation to our problems.”

To a question on the Lahore Declaration, the Pakistani ruler said: “It shows as if there are very big issues between India and Pakistan and Kashmir is a minor irritant that may also be addressed.”

Replying to questions on Pakistan’s internal matters like Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed calling the Pakistani military ruler a security risk, General Musharraf said: “Mr Ahmed is an unbalanced man. I don’t even want to respond to him”.

On the policy of the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan towards women and other issues, he said: “We do not accept their views on religion, we certainly do not accept their backwardness, their attitude against women.

He also condemned Taliban’s demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas.

To a question on relinquishing office in October, 2002, the military ruler said: “I will certainly have to leave the office of the Chief Executive. There should be a Prime Minister elected.”

On the possibility of former Premiers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto returning to Pakistan, he said: “Let the courts decide it. They are court decisions and there are several cases against them. They will face charges”. PTI

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