Bhutto case dogs Musharraf

Bhutto case dogs Musharraf

ISLAMABAD
Bhutto case dogs Musharraf

Activists of ruling Pakistan Peoples Party stand in front of a portrait of slain former premier Bhutto in this photo. ‘Former Pakistani President Musharraf will be arrested if he returns to the country,’ a prosecutor says. AFP photo

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will be arrested in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto if he returns to the country, a government prosecutor said Jan. 7.

There is no need for any “fresh arrest warrants” for him as a court has already issued orders for his arrest, prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali said. Hours earlier, Musharraf told a Pakistani news channel he would come back later this month to contest the next parliamentary elections, which could be held later this year.

Saudi and Pakistani sources said yesterday Musharraf plans to travel to Saudi Arabia soon to gather support for his political return. “Musharraf will be travelling to Saudi soon in order to get support before he goes back to Pakistan,” said a Gulf-based Saudi source.

Musharraf has been living in London and Dubai since 2008 when the government, led by Bhutto’s party, forced him to resign. Bhutto was killed in 2007 in a gun and suicide-bomb attack near the capital, Islamabad, after returning home to contest elections. Musharraf, at the time, had blamed the Pakistani Taliban for her murder, but the prosecution alleges he was part of the plot.

Musharraf now heads his own faction of the All Pakistan Muslim League, a small political party that does not have any major base in the country. Some of his former supporters have quit his party. His spokesman, Fawad Chaudhry, asserted the arrest warrant for Musharraf had no legal value. “We have challenged this arrest warrant in a court,” he said. Musharraf would announce a final date for returning home this week, but “he will come back soon to lead the nation,” he added.

‘Escape is not an option’

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has said leaving office is not an option and no one has asked him to resign, responding to speculation the powerful military wants his departure. “No one has asked for it yet. If someone does, I will tell you,” said Zardari in an interview with private Geo television. He appeared in good spirits after medical treatment in Dubai last month.

Zardari is facing his biggest political crisis since he took office in 2008 over an unsigned memo to the Pentagon that sought help from the U.S. in reining in Pakistan’s generals, who have ruled the nation for more than half of its history.

Although his position is largely ceremonial, Zardari wields considerable influence as leader of the ruling party and any forced departure would be a humiliation for the civilian leadership and could throw the country into turmoil. When asked in the interview if “escape” was an option for him, Zardari replied, “Why should it be?”

Compiled from AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

Pervez Musharraf, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia