Pakistan’s Supreme Court began hearing a case yesterday against an amnesty that had protected Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and many key allies from graft charges.
The process could lead to challenges against the legality of the US-allied president’s rule just as the Obama administration needs stability in Islamabad to help crack down on militants near the Afghan border.
Court official Azhar Hussain said the 17-member bench led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry started hearing petitions but gave no other details.
The session came two weeks after the expiration of the amnesty, which had been granted in a US-backed deal with former military leader Pervez Musharraf to allow Zardari’s late wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, to return from exile in 2007 and run for office safe in the knowledge she would not be dogged by corruption allegations.
Speculation over Zardari’s future has escalated after he was forced to abandon an effort to get parliament to approve the amnesty, which granted him and more than 8,000 other government bureaucrats and politicians immunity from a host of corruption and criminal charges.
Zardari, who has denied any wrongdoing, enjoys general immunity from prosecution as president, but the Supreme Court could choose to challenge his eligibility for the post if the amnesty is declared illegal.
The US and other Western nations supported the bid by Bhutto, who was seen as a secular and pro-Western politician. But Bhutto, who was forced from her post twice in the 1990s because of alleged misrule and corruption, was killed by a suicide bomber shortly after she returned to Pakistan. Zardari took over as co-chairman of her party and was elected president in September last year by federal and regional lawmakers.
The political upheaval comes as US President Barack Obama’s administration is stepping up its effort to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and on Pakistan’s northwestern border.
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