The government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced Thursday an accord that includes amnesty for the opposition leader and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, clearing the way for the general to run for re-election as president on Saturday and for Bhutto to return to Pakistan for parliamentary elections at the end of the year.
The agreement has been approved by the Cabinet and awaits Musharraf’s signature, which is expected. It also permits negotiations on a broader power-sharing pact with Bhutto.
The amnesty would cover all politicians, bankers and bureaucrats charged with corruption offenses in 1988 through 1999. It was a central demand of Bhutto, who plans to return to Pakistan on Oct. 18 to run for prime minister. She left Pakistan in 1999 for self-imposed exile in London to escape corruption charges that she contends were politically motivated.
As the presidential election neared, she accused Musharraf of stalling, and warned that her Pakistan Peoples Party would join an opposition boycott of the vote if the agreement were not signed.
But on Thursday night, Bhutto agreed to the final version of the accord, said Farooq Naik, a senator and senior lawyer from her party who had seen it.
The agreement was reached at nearly the last moment. Musharraf, who has faced opposition in his ruling party over the measure, has only one day left until the election. The Supreme Court is hearing petitions challenging his eligibility to run and is expected to rule Friday.
The amnesty is part of a broader reconciliation package that includes measures to help ensure free elections and to discourage politically motivated corruption charges, all with the aim of establishing a new era of democracy, Musharraf, said Thursday night in an interview with Dawn News, an English-language television channel.
Despite his many past criticisms of Bhutto over allegations of corruption, he said, none of the cases against her had been proved, and, as the leader of a popular political party, she had a role to play in the return to democracy.