Posts Tagged ‘corruption charges’

Israeli War Criminal Olmert Welcomed in Australia

November 30, 2009
There is a danger that Australia could become a safe haven for Israeli war criminals.

By Sonja Karkar, The Palestine Chronicle, Nov 29, 2009

The news that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in Australia and was welcomed by the honourable members of our parliament came as somewhat of a shock. It is one thing to have allowed a man on corruption charges as well as facing war crimes indictments into Australia at all; it is another thing that he was listed as a distinguished guest in Hansard – the official record of parliamentary proceedings – and received a resounding “hear, hear” from our elected representatives.

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Mad and bad – but the West will turn a blind eye

September 7, 2008

Dogged by allegations of crime and corruption, Pakistan’s new president could lose power to his army if he fails his restive people

Jamima Khan | The Independent, Sep 7, 2008

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President Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower, formerly known as Mr Ten Per Cent because of kickbacks received during his wife’s time in office, has become one of the most powerful and potentially dangerous men in the subcontinent. Mad and bad. And now omnipotent. He is head of state, supreme commander of the armed forces, has the power to dismiss parliament, appoint the heads of the army and election commission – and, as chairman of the National Command Authority, has the final say in the deployment of nuclear weapons.

Earlier Zardari vowed to relinquish the executive powers that Pervez Musharraf gave to the originally ceremonial presidency. Now he’s evasive. Despite the fact that he has little public support (14 per cent, according to a recent poll), holds no seat in parliament and has no mandate other than his association with the Bhutto name, he had every right to nominate himself or anyone else as President. His party – inherited from his late wife – was democratically elected in February and has the largest number of seats in parliament.

The man who now has his finger on the nuclear button was only last year declared unfit to stand trial in a UK court on account of multiple mental problems. According to court documents filed by his psychiatrists, he suffers from dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress after spending 11 of the past 20 years in jail in Pakistan. According to their testimony last year, he found it hard even to recall the names of his wife and children.

He has long had memory problems. In the past he has been unable to recall whether he was the owner of a multimillion-pound Surrey estate (he thought not, but later took possession of it) or if $60m (£34m) in a frozen Swiss bank account was actually his. He also thought that he had graduated from the London School of Economics, or was it the London School of Business Studies? There are no records of his doing either.

The doctors’ diagnoses of severe mental ill-health rid Zardari of his corruption case in the UK. Last November’s National Reconciliation Ordinance, brokered by the Americans to allow Bhutto’s return to Pakistan and passed by Musharraf, rid him of the rest. It also guaranteed him lifelong immunity from prosecution for corruption. He appears to have made medical history and rid himself of his dementia in time to become President. The only thing he can’t shake off is his appalling reputation.

Zardari has long been dogged by allegations of crime and corruption. In 2003, a Swiss magistrate found him guilty in absentia of laundering $10m. Musharraf’s National Accountability Bureau estimated that he had looted up to $1.5bn from the treasury during his wife’s two terms in office. In 1990, he was in trouble for allegedly tying a remote-controlled bomb to the leg of a businessman and sending him into a bank to withdraw money from his account as a pay-off. More sinisterly, he was charged with complicity in the murder of his brother-in-law Murtaza Bhutto, but the case was never tried. He was also implicated in the 1996 murder of a judge, Justice Nizam Ahmed, and his lawyer son.

Even if Zardari is given the benefit of the doubt and has changed after his wife’s assassination and his many years in jail, his behaviour in the run-up to his election as President proves he still can’t be trusted. He has already reneged on several written agreements made with the coalition, including his pledge to field a non-partisan candidate for president, as well as his pre-election promise to reinstate the judges deposed by Musharraf. If reinstated, they could repeal the amnesty granted to him and reopen corruption investigations.

Inside Pakistan, people are despondent. The economic situation is worse than ever, with inflation at almost 25 per cent. Outside Pakistan, despite his reputation, he is tolerated. He’s seen as pro-West. He will be another “key ally in the war on terror”.

America is stepping up its military campaign in the region, not least because George Bush wants Osama bin Laden’s grizzled head before the US presidential election on 4 November. Strikes against Pakistan’s tribal areas by US/Nato forces are not uncommon, but on Wednesday, for the first time, ground forces attacked a village on the Pakistani side of the border, in South Waziristan, killing 20 innocent people. Tribesmen are up in arms – literally – and have promised revenge, and there has been widespread condemnation. If Zardari is seen to be tolerating such attacks by foreign troops inside Pakistan, a violent backlash is likely.

On Friday, he pledged to eliminate the Taliban. A tall order. Since Musharraf joined the “war on terror” at US bidding and expense and sent Pakistani troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pashtun tribesmen have been falling over their Kalashnikovs to join the Taliban. With hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people from Bajaur as a result of conflict, weekly reports of aerial attacks and collateral damage, the Taliban movement is growing in strength by the day.

And it’s not just the formidable Pashtuns on the warpath. The Taliban is operating on fertile soil. Nationwide, 71 per cent of Pakistanis oppose co-operating with the US in counterterrorism and 51 per cent oppose fighting the Taliban at all, according to a June Gallup poll. The vast majority of Pakistan’s 190 million people may not like the Taliban, but they dislike the US and what is seen as its proxy army even more. Even within the army, there are rebels who object to being forced to kill their own people. The majority of the population is also deeply opposed to what it sees as a foreign occupation in Afghanistan, with more than 80 per cent favouring a negotiated settlement and withdrawal.

Suicide attacks within Pakistan – unheard of before 9/11 – are now so commonplace they barely make the front pages. From the wilds of the tribal areas to the mosques of west London, the war on terror has been hopelessly counterproductive, despite being fuelled by millions of dollars. Its chief beneficiaries have been the Taliban and their sympathisers who feed on the instability.

Zardari has replaced Musharraf, but their policies will be the same. He is unlikely to prove more successful at tackling extremism. His already meagre popularity rating is expected to dwindle rapidly as he is increasingly perceived as another US stooge. And despite all his powers, he is still less powerful than the army. As ever, if the politicians fail to steer Pakistan through its myriad problems, the military, which has notched up 33 years of rule in Pakistan’s 61-year history, will step in.

What is depressing is not that everything now changes with the election of Asif Ali Zardari, but that everything stays the same.

Analysis: Pakistan’s future leader?

September 6, 2008
Al Jazeera, Sep 5, 2008
The alliance between Zardari (left) and Sharif collapsed over the failure to reinstate deposed judges [GALLO/GETTY]

President Asif Ali Zardari.It is a description that has led to much disquiet in Pakistan ever since the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) named him their candidate for the highest office.

The presidential election, which follows the resignation of Pervez Musharraf, the former president, last month after nine years in power, will be held on September 6 and legislators will be asked to cast their ballots.

Historically, the day is observed as Defence of Pakistan Day.

However, apart from party loyalists, few have been able to defend the PPP decision to allow Benazir Bhutto’s widower to occupy the most powerful office in Pakistan.

The president is the supreme commander of the armed forces, the head of the National Command Authority — theoretically, with a finger on the nuclear button — and has the power to dismiss the government and parliament.

He also makes the most critical appointments from armed forces chiefs and provincial governors to the country’s chief justice.

Such wide-ranging powers for a man with a controversial past and an even more controversial present has led to much discontent about what awaits Pakistan after his election as president.

Trust deficit

Pakistan election facts
Pakistan’s electoral college is made up of two houses of parliament and four provincial assemblies.

The National Assembly is the lower house, and the Senate is the upper house.

In all, 700 votes are up for grabs (but for the two seats in the National Assembly still waiting bye-polls) under the formula governing presidential election.

Given the party position and affiliations, if all legislators vote according to party lines, Zardari should be able to secure at least 424 votes, against 150 of PML-N’s Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui and 126 by PML-Q’s Senator Mushahid Hussain.

Zardari anointed himself the party’s de facto leader following Bhutto’s assassination last December citing a handwritten will she purportedly wrote.Many doubt it is genuine.

He then sidelined her circle of trusted lieutenants and repeatedly reneged on public pledges of restoring deposed judges.

Almost every newspaper of national reckoning has balked at the prospect of Zardari occupying the presidency, given the gnawing credibility gap and his uncertain mental health following revelations made by the Financial Times last month.

Zardari was diagnosed in 2007 with serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in medical reports spanning over two years.

According to the paper, court records showed Zardari had used the medical diagnoses to argue successfully for the postponement of a now-defunct English High Court case in which Pakistan’s government was suing him for alleged corruption.

The PPP denies Zardari’s health is in doubt but pointedly evades any discussion on the specifics of the medical records.

The elections have so worried some that even, Shaheen Sehbai, the group editor of The News, a leading Pakistani newspaper, and a self-professed Zardari friend, called on the army “to restore balance”.

“Let the power of the guns and barrels be used, for a change, in the interest of the nation and the people. It is obvious that the politicians cannot clean the dirt as they are neither visionaries, nor that tall, nor experienced, nor prepared nor motivated to look beyond their noses,” Sehbai argued.

Fantastic script

For Zardari, the spoils of the highest office would mark the culmination of a fantastic script even by Pakistan’s notoriously, unpredictable plots: from a playboy to president.

After marrying Bhutto in 1987, he quickly became a prime mover-and-shaker when only a year later she rose to become the Muslim world’s first woman prime minister. Bhutto was ousted on corruption charges in 1990.

Bhutto won a second term in 1993 when her nemesis, Nawaz Sharif, was also shown the door, but three years later her own handpicked president sacked her government on similar charges of misrule. Subsequently, Zardari was jailed and Bhutto went into exile.

The charges, which the Bhutto couple always asserted were politically motivated, could not be proved. Zardari was released in 2004 after spending eight years in jail.

Comeback trail

The two won a reprieve when decade-old corruption cases were quashed in 2007 under a controversial deal with Musharraf.

This was part of the former president’s so-called national reconciliation drive overseen by foreign powers to facilitate a new power equation to continue the war-on-terror with the ex-general as president and Bhutto his new prime minister.

Bhutto was assassinated following a public rally in Rawalpindi on December 27 and Musharraf resigned under the threat of impeachment only last month.

His defeat came after a sweeping rejection of his allies in the February 18 polls, which returned his sworn opponents to power.

Following Bhutto’s assassination, Zardari returned to take the reins of the PPP and stunned his party by producing a handwritten will, which purportedly, directed the party to follow her husband’s lead until they decided with consensus on a new leader.

Far from evolving consensus, Zardari quickly anointed their 19-year-old son Bilawal as the party’s chairman while he pledged to look after the party until the young scion completed his education in faraway Oxford.

The co-chairman has since sidelined the inner circle of his slain spouse, prominent among them Amin Fahim, a veteran who led the party in Bhutto’s absence, and was primed to become the PM.

Despite consolidating his hold on the party, critics noted how Zardari did not trust any member of his party to be even a covering candidate, let alone run for the highest office.

He named Faryal Talpur, his sister, to be the alternate candidate.

Hour of reckoning

Not everyone is convinced that Zardari has earned his spurs. Yousuf Nazar, an economist and author of The Gathering Storm in Pakistan: Political Economy of a Security State says the PPP leader has a misplaced sense of overconfidence:

“Zardari needs to understand that the power bequeathed to him by that larger-than-life figure, Benazir Bhutto, and Musharraf’s exit had more to do with his own blunders and with the policy of the US that never really trusted him in the first place and had become increasingly frustrated with his double-dealing particularly since February 2008,” Nazar said.

Of particular concern to Pakistanis is how Zardari will perform once he is ensconced in the presidency. For a man who runs the party by personal fiat — the directions come through two mobile phones which he keeps in each of his jacket pockets —  it will be a major test of his political skills to stay apolitical.

Traditionally, a civilian president is expected to resign from his party to maintain the neutrality of the office. To be sure, his predecessor in the party, Farooq Leghari, too, had to give up the party membership to become president in 1993.

Word is already doing the rounds that Zardari may hand over the day-to-day running of the party to his sister Faryal but such a move could lead to further fissures within the party.

The writer is News Editor at Dawn News, an independent Pakistani TV channel.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera.

‘Mr 10 Per Cent’ puts jail behind him and bids to lead Pakistan

August 25, 2008

Asif Ali Zardari, the widowed husband of Benazir Bhutto, is set to take over from the man he forced to resign from office.

By Omar Waraich in Islamabad and Andrew Buncombe | The Independent, Sunday, 24 August 2008

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Less than a year ago Asif Ali Zardari appeared to be yesterday’s man. Seemingly sidelined by his wife, Benazir Bhutto, and her party, facing a series of corruption charges and bearing the nickname “Mr 10 Per Cent”, it appeared that his days of power and influence were over.

Now he is back, as never before. Having been catapulted to the forefront of Pakistan’s political maelstrom by the assassination of his wife, Mr Zardari is poised to become his country’s head of state. At the end of a remarkable week which saw Pervez Musharraf (inset) resign as president to avoid impeachment, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) announced that its chosen candidate to replace him would be Mr Zardari.

The man who spent 11 years in jail over corruption charges he claims were politically motivated, yesterday confirmed he would take the post. It would have been remarkable if the party he has led since his wife’s death last December had not agreed to nominate him. Yesterday PPP officials were meeting with coalition partner Nawaz Sharif to try to secure his backing for the nomination. “We want a joint candidate for the race,” said PPP spokesman Jameel Soomro.

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