Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari pardoned his interior minister after he was convicted of corruption, threatening a renewed tussle between the country’s leaders and the judiciary.
Zardari moved against the conviction yesterday of key aide Rehman Malik by the Lahore High Court, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in a phone interview from Islamabad.
“Under Article 45 of the constitution, the President can pardon a sentence on the advice of the Prime Minister,” Babar said today.
Zardari’s action may lead to his third clash in two years with Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Chaudhry, who was ousted by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007 under emergency rule, was reinstated by Zardari in March 2009 after opposition protests.
The Lahore court had sentenced Malik to three years in prison for each of two cases, Pakistani newspapers reported today.
“Malik should have utilized all other remedies first because he had the right to go to the Supreme Court against the Lahore High Court’s decision,” said Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, professor of international relations at Quaid-e-Azam International University in Islamabad. “This will create a bad taste between the executive and the judiciary.”
On Dec. 16, the Supreme Court ordered the National Accountability Bureau, the nation’s top corruption fighting agency, to revive charges against more than 8,000 officials and politicians, including Zardari, after it scrapped a 2007 graft amnesty issued by Musharraf.
In March, the top court headed by Chaudhry ordered the bureau to seek the reopening of cases against Zardari in Switzerland. Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were charged in July 2004 by a Geneva judge for accepting bribes to award contracts to companies, including SGS Societe Generale de Surveillance Holding SA, the Swiss newspaper Le Temps reported at the time.
Zardari, who earned the nickname “Mr. 10 Percent” because of the corruption cases against him, spent 11 years in jail. He has always denied the charges and has never been found guilty by the courts.
The president last month signed legislation that eliminated his ability to dissolve Parliament and transferred to Gilani the authority to appoint the country’s powerful armed services commanders.
Zardari’s approval ratings have risen no higher than 25 percent among Pakistanis during his more than 18 months in office in opinion polls conducted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute.
He has though maintained support in the administration of Barack Obama. Zardari has spoken more directly than other Pakistani leaders for U.S.-backed policies such as fighting the Taliban and ending the enmity with India that has led to three wars between the nuclear-armed states.