In Pakistan, end of amnesty could spark fresh political turmoil
In Pakistan, end of amnesty that protected senior officials from prosecution of criminal charges will expire Saturday, deepening the woes of the embattled government.
The imminent expiration of a controversial decree that provides amnesty against criminal charges to top Pakistani politicians could further weaken the country's embattled civilian government, according to analysts here.Skip to next paragraph
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The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was passed by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007 as part of a political deal, brokered with the assistance of the United States, that allowed the late Benazir Bhutto back into the country to contest 2008 elections without having to face charges related to money-laundering and kickbacks on government contracts. More than 8,000 individuals, mainly bureaucrats, are currently protected by the decree.
The NRO was ostensibly aimed at putting an end to politically motivated corruption cases that had led to bitter fighting between the two major parties during the 1990s, Pakistan's so-called "decade of democracy." But a sustained political campaign led by the main opposition PML-N party and backed by the right-wing media has meant that the NRO "has now become a byword for corruption," according to Cyril Almeida, assistant editor of Dawn, a leading English daily.
Key officials could be liable to prosecution
If the Supreme Court allows the NRO's expiration on Saturday and rules that old cases are automatically reactivated, key officials could be liable to prosecution.
Among the officials who could be affected are Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, and senior diplomats, including Hussain Haqqani, the ambassador to the United States; and Wajid Shamsul Hassan, the ambassador to Britain.
Presidential immunity means no cases may be brought against President Zardari, even after the NRO's expiration. The president is now "politically vulnerable, but constitutionally impregnable," says Mr.Almeida.
Almeida points out that "no civilian government in Pakistan lasts long after the drumroll of corruption begins," though it is unclear what form the government's downfall could take.
For the time being, at least, the resignation of the president, as demanded by some of his foes, seems unlikely, as does a parliamentary vote of no confidence. The possibility of a military takeover is also low.