Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari transferred control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He also revealed his intentions to strip the office of President of more powers by year-end. Zardari also gave up the powers of the Chairman of the National Command Authority which controls the country’s nukes and transferred them to the Prime Minister late Friday night.
While the presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar described the move as a “giant leap forward to empower the elected Parliament and the Prime Minister” the fact that the amnesty granted to Zardari came to an end on Saturday, may be a crucial fact to have triggered the move. Several corruption and criminal cases pending against President Asif Ali Zardari are likely to be reopened after a controversial amnesty agreement expired on Nov. 28.
The amnesty was granted as part of the National Reconciliation Ordinance introduced in December 2007 as part of a deal between then-President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and President Zardari’s, wife, ex-PM, Benazir Bhutto who was later slain by a suicide bomber. The ordinance allowed Mrs. Bhutto and Mr. Zardari to return to Pakistan and not face charges that had been pending against the duo. The amnesty also allowed to some key ministers in the current government who faced corruption and other charges of their own.
The ex-President, Pervez Musharraf was responsible for creating the National Command Authority and passing the 17th Constitutional Amendment to give himself sweeping powers. The ammendment allowed the President to dismiss the PM and dissolve Parliament at his will. The ammendment is also expected to be done away with in December.
The move also comes after a ruling by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in July of this year which required the government to get several ordinances issued by Musharraf endorsed by Parliament by November 28. After the government failed to do so due to pressure from political parties, Zardari re-promulgated 27 ordinances in total.
Now that the amnesty cover is out of place, several key ministers including President Zardari may face the heat. PM Gilani has already hinted that he may sack the ministers facing charges. Mr. Zardari was the minister for investment in his wife’s government during 1993-96. He has already spent almost eight years in prison facing trial on several corruption and three murder charges before being freed in 2004 by a court on bail. He also faced trial on a money-laundering charge by a Swiss court that was withdrawn at the request of the Pakistani government days before his election as the country’s president.