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Something cooking in Pak
After Mush, Gen Kiani
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

On a day of dramatic developments today opposition members resigned from the national and provincial assemblies, President Gen. Musharraf designated his successor and the Supreme Court admitted two petitions challenging Musharraf's candidature.

Rival candidates Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who filed the petitions further sought court's intervention to stay the presidential election till the disposal of the petitions. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry constituted a nine-judge Bench under Justice Javed Iqbal to hear the petitions.

Musharraf promoted Lt. Gen. Ashfaque Kiani, till recently the head of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) as full General. Kiani will take over as vice-chief of army staff from Gen. Ahsan Salim Hayat who retires on October 7 but will become army chief when Musharraf quits that office after becoming president.

Though no date was given for Lieut-Gen Kiani, a Musharraf loyalist, to assume the post of army chief, the state-run PTV quoted the Inter Services Public Relations as saying that he would take up his new assignment once the President who is seeking re-election in the October 6 ballot, gives up his uniform, PTI adds.

Also, Lt General Tariq Majeed, former Commander of the Rawalpindi Corps, was promoted as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and will take over his new assignment on October 8.

The new appointments came 10 days after Musharraf carried out a major reshuffle of top Army Commanders and promoted Major-General Nadeem Taj to the rank of Lieutenant General and named him the new chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency.

Kiani, who previously also held the post of military secretary to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has been involved in talks with her to bring about a political understanding with Musharraf. Kiyani was accompanied by Musharraf for a meeting with Bhutto in Abu Dhabi two months ago. He was widely regarded as the top contender for the post of army chief in case Musharraf chose to relinquish it.

The resignations of the opposition members are designed to deny legitimacy to Musharraf’s election through outgoing assemblies. A total of 82 members resigned in the 342-member National Assemblies while 46 members in Punjab, seven in Sindh and 38 in Balochistan tendered their resignations to Speakers of the provincial assemblies. Kiani’s designation was also aimed at sending a message to Ms. Bhutto that General Musharraf will quit as army chief soon after election. He led secret negotiations with Ms. Bhutto and was present at Musharraf-Benazir meeting in Dubai last July.

A legal and parliamentary battle was also launched in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) as pro-Musharraf parties introduced a no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Akram Durrani to thwart his plan to dissolve the Assembly. The Chief Minister cannot advise the Governor to dissolve the House till the disposal of any no-confidence motion.

But in a counter move, the Muttahida Majlise Amal requisitioned the Assembly for a special session on Wednesday. Akram Durrani will seek vote of confidence from the House where the APDM enjoys overwhelming majority after which he will advise the Governor to dissolve the Assembly.

“The dissolution decision is final and we hope to overcome the obstacles within the next couple of days”, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly whose Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) heads the provincial government and is a major partner in Balochistan government, told reporters here. The JUI has made a major sacrifice by quitting two provincial governments, he said.

He said the resignations by lawmakers of the four federating units, NWFP and Balochistan have politically and ethnically turned the presidential election into a farce and denied Musharraf the legitimacy he is craving for.

Top leaders of the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), including Maulana Fazl, Imran Khan, Javed Hashmi, Mahmood Achakzai, Nisar Ali Khan and Asfandyar Wali Khan led the opposition MPs to the Parliament House where they submitted resignations to speaker National Assembly Chaudhry Amir Hussain. The Speaker told reporters he would examine the resignations before sending them to the Chief Election Commissioner for notification.

Fazl repudiated widely circulated reports that he had deliberately delayed the date for dissolution to give time to the government to make a pre-emptive move. He said October was chosen unanimously by the APDM because it wanted to wait for court decision and the completion of nominations, scrutiny and withdrawal process by October 1.

Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, acting president Nawaz Sharif faction of the PML (PML-N), also refuted speculations that Fazl had shown any reluctance on dissolution decision.

In the Supreme Court, Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed maintained that as army chief General Musharraf is not qualified to contest election under the Constitution. Latif Khosa, counsel for PPP candidate Makhdoom Amin Fahim, adopted the same arguments. The PPP, however, may withdraw the petition if Benazir decides to facilitate Musharraf’s election by abstaining.

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Benazir graft charges to go
Tribune News Service and Reuters

Islamabad, October 2
The Pakistan government has decided to drop corruption cases against former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, a minister said on Tuesday.

“The government has agreed to withdraw corruption cases against Benazir Butto,” minister for railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said.

Meanwhile, in a significant move to lure Bhutto’s PPP away from the opposition’s move, an extended meeting of federal cabinet, attended among others by senior leaders of the ruling coalition, approved the draft of an ordinance allowing amnesty to Bhutto from corruption cases. The draft has been sent to her in London where she has convened a meeting of party leaders to take final decision on presidential election, an official said.

The government is planning to promulgate the ordinance in the next 24 hours which will grant amnesty to all politicians, bankers and bureaucrats from charges relating to misdemeanour, misconduct and misuse of power between 1985 and 2007.

Sources said the ordinance will address Bhutto’s paramount concern about corruption cases ahead of the crucial PPP meeting slated for Wednesday in London to facilitate a decision to join the presidential electoral process to lend it critical credibility.

In her two secret meetings with President Pervez Musharraf in Abu Dhabi on January 24 and July 27, Bhutto had reportedly agreed to de-link her party from opposition’s move for en bloc resignations in return for phasing out of corruption cases against her. She also agreed to return to Pakistan after the election.

The proposed National Reconciliation Ordinance will apply to all those against whom such allegations are outstanding in courts of law and who have not been convicted. As such, the ordinance will apply to Bhutto, but not to Nawaz Sharif.

The President has the authority to legislate through ordinances on the advice of the Prime Minister. The device is being used to circumvent opposition from the ruling parties, including the PML-Q,the PPP-Sherpao and the MQM.

Benazir’s recent demand for doing away with the bar on two-time Prime Ministers will be shelved with a solemn commitment by General Musharraf to take it up after the general election. The coalition parties fear that any immediate legislation will send a wrong message to their lawmakers and people that Bhutto will be the next premier. The perception will cause large-scale defections within the coalition parties, they apprehend.

The amnesty will provide a clean chit to Bhutto before she lands in Pakistan on promised date of October 18. It will effectively reaffirm the understanding between President Musharraf and Bhutto and pave the way for post-election arrangements on power sharing.

General Musharraf believes that it will allow his election for another term to have a semblance of legitimacy and credibility.

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