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'Amnesty to Bhutto may be overturned'

Pak's Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum says the former PM may soon face the corruption cases that forced her into exile.

world Updated: Nov 18, 2007 16:26 IST

Former Premier Benazir Bhutto may soon face the same corruption cases that forced her into exile for eight years as the amnesty lifting the charges was likely to be overturned, the top Pakistan government lawyer has said.

Five writs have been issued against the amnesty, which President Pervez Musharraf granted to Bhutto by promulgating an ordinance ahead of her return to the country on October 18, in the Supreme Court and it would not survive the challenge, Pakistan's Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum told 'The Sunday Times'.

"I don't think it will survive the challenge," said Qayyum. "Whoever drafted it, it was not happily worded. Only the courts can decide to throw charges out, not governments."

Bhutto told the newspaper she was unconcerned. "I don't care about the cases," she said. "I care about the future of my country. If the court wants to take it up again, all right, let them take it up."

Qayyum said he would also be defending the President's eligibility for office and giving his opinion on the Emergency. He was referring to the petitions taken by the apex court challenging Musharraf's candidature in the October 6 Presidential poll, which the General swept.

Qayyum said that political motives would play no part when discussing challenges to the Bhutto amnesty, which will be heard by the Supreme Court once it has ruled on the legality of the Emergency.

"Before Bhutto came back, the President had directed me to defend it to the maximum, but now I'm not sure what the stance will be," he said. "The thing is, they erred in drawing it up."

The threat, which allies of Musharraf are encouraging him to use against Bhutto, comes as Pakistan's military ruler faces mounting domestic and international pressure over the state of emergency that he imposed on November 3.

Both Bhutto and Musharraf have ruled out any hope of reviving their talks on a possible power-sharing arrangement that led to the amnesty after almost a year of negotiations.

"It was a deliberate strategy to prevent the opposition uniting and she (Bhutto) fell for it," said Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, leader of the ruling PML (Q). "It broke up her alliance with (exiled former Premier) Nawaz Sharif and also stopped Bhutto's MPs' boycotting his (Musharraf's) re-election as President, which would otherwise have been invalid."

Bhutto has convened a meeting of opposition leaders at her Karachi home on Wednesday to discuss boycotting the elections set for January and launching a nationwide street movement for the restoration of democracy.

"I'm reaching out because we need to put together a coalition of interests," she said on Saturday.

The international community has also stepped up its pressure with a visit to Islamabad by John Negroponte, US Deputy Secretary of State, who delivered what US officials described as "a strong message", urging Musharraf to lift the state of emergency and take off his military uniform.

Last night Bhutto accused the West of continuing to bail out Musharraf. "Even though the people of Pakistan have risen up, our media have been shut down, judges and lawyers are behind bars, yet still the international community is reluctant to let go of General Musharraf. It's time they looked to the wishes of 160 million people rather than just one man."