Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) — Pakistan’s government said the Supreme Court will decide whether former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto will face corruption charges when she returns to the country this week, after a new amnesty law was challenged.
“She is free to come and, you know, the laws of the land will apply to her, like any other citizen of Pakistan,” Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said in an interview with Cable News Network yesterday.
Bhutto plans to return Oct. 18, ending eight years in self- imposed exile, to lead her Pakistan Peoples Party in national elections due by Jan. 15. The government introduced a law on Oct. 5 withdrawing corruption charges against Bhutto as part of a national reconciliation plan. The Supreme Court said last week it will decide whether the government amnesty is legal.
“The people have had a strong reaction to the removal of cases against her,” Aziz said, according to a transcript on CNN’s Web site.
Bhutto, 54, who has lived in Dubai and London since 1999 to avoid corruption charges, has agreed to support Musharraf as president if he accepts her demands to step down as army chief and allow her a third term as prime minister. Musharraf has said he will step down as army chief by Nov. 15.
Musharraf will “absolutely” give up the post of head of the armed forces, Aziz said. “He will have a single office which will be the civilian president of Pakistan.”
Musharraf, 64, is facing the most serious opposition to his rule since he seized power in a 1999 military coup. Islamic parties oppose his support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism and staged protests when troops stormed Islamabad’s Red Mosque in July, ending a challenge by clerics trying to impose Islamic law on the capital.
Opposition groups held nationwide rallies after he dismissed the country’s top judge in March, a decision overturned by the Supreme Court in July.
Musharraf won a majority of votes from lawmakers in the country’s Oct. 6 presidential ballot.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has barred the Election Commission from declaring the result until a panel of judges rules on a legal challenge that he was not eligible to stand for re-election while remaining army chief.
Musharraf said Bhutto should delay her return to Pakistan until after the court ruling.
Aziz said in the interview there were differences in the cases of Bhutto and another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.
The government deported Sharif to Saudi Arabia on Sept. 10 when he tried to return to Pakistan. Musharraf had pardoned Sharif, who was convicted of corruption and treason and sentenced to 14 years in prison after his ouster in 1999, on condition he remained in exile for 10 years, the government says.
Sharif broke his promise not to return, Aziz said.
Sharif is more popular than Bhutto and Musharraf, according to an opinion poll released Oct. 11 by the Washington-based International Republican Institute.
Sharif came first with 36 percent of respondents selecting him in the survey as the best leader to address Pakistan’s problems. Bhutto received 28 percent and Musharraf 17 percent.
In June, Bhutto led with 32 percent, ahead of Musharraf on 27 percent and Sharif on 21 percent.
“Bhutto’s positioning as a sometime opponent of Musharraf as well as a potential partner in a power-sharing deal has created ambiguity in the minds of voters,” the institute said in a statement.