Saturday October 6 2007 00:00 IST
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Friday signed a "national reconciliation" ordinance, paving the way for a power-sharing deal with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Musharraf signed the ordinance giving amnesty to Bhutto and other political leaders - except exiled former premier Nawaz Sharif - in all court cases against them a day before he faces the crucial presidential poll in which he is seeking a second five-year term in uniform.
Earlier in the day, a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz approved the draft national reconciliation deal with Bhutto, who lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London.
The cabinet approval came after several amendments suggested by both the opposition Pakistan People's Party of Bhutto and the ruling PML-Q were incorporated in the draft ordinance, described by the government as the "best" option in the current circumstances.
The cabinet also expressed full confidence in Musharraf with regard to the national reconciliation policy and gave him the authority to make decisions on this issue, a release issued by the prime minister's house said.
Musharraf has stated that political reconciliation and harmony alone could help the government tackle key issues like terrorism and extremism.
The national reconciliation ordinance states that all court cases and investigations against persons who have held public office till October 1999 will be terminated. This will apply to members of the National Assembly and Senate, the two house of Parliament, and also covers Bhutto.
The provisions of the ordinance, however, will not apply to Sharif, who briefly returned to Pakistan on September 10 after his seven-year exile only to be deported to Saudi Arabia. Sharif was convicted in several cases in 2000.
Under the ordinance, special committees on ethics will be set up in the national and provincial assemblies and these panels will have to clear any move by police to arrest lawmakers.
Musharraf apparently hastened the signing of the ordinance as it could not have been promulgated once the National Assembly is in session.
A joint sitting of Parliament is scheduled for Saturday in view of the presidential election in which Musharraf is expected to easily sail through.
The Supreme Court on Friday gave a go head for the presidential poll on Saturday, but said the result should not be announced till it decides on petitions filed by Musharraf's rival candidates challenging his candidature.
Musharraf had earlier given an undertaking before the Supreme Court that he would quit as Army Chief if re-elected.
THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS