Pakistan corruption crisis

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman speaks with the BBC's Aleem Maqbool about a corruption crisis roiling the ranks of Pakistan's political elite. It's a situation that might have ramifications for American security interests in the region.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. The government of Pakistan is battling Taliban and al-Qaeda militants right now. The outcome is hugely important to the US. But Pakistan's ability to stay focused on that fight is seriously challenged by another big problem ? government corruption. Hundreds of top officials could face soon charge including Pakistan's defense minister and today another top minister was issued a summons to appear before an anti-corruption court. The BBC's Aleem Maqbool is in Islamabad. Aleem first of all, who is this minister and what kind of corruption is he accused of?

ALEEM MAQBOOL: Well we're talking about Rehman Malik. He's the interior minister. He's supposed to be in charge of law and order for [INDISCERNIBLE] and security at least within Pakistan. And he himself has now been summoned to this court in Karachi. The details of the corruption charges haven't been given. But this is a case that was lodged against the minister in the early part of this decade. It was closed a couple of years ago as cases were for over 8,000 politicians and bureaucrats that came under this amnesty. All of their corruption cases were closed. But just earlier in the week the Supreme Court here in Pakistan said that immunity from prosecution was illegal.

WERMAN: So 8,000 politicians. Are they going to bring them all into court?

MAQBOOL: Eight thousand politicians and bureaucrats. I mean only 34 of them are politicians in the national assembly. And this includes by the way the president, Asif Ali Zardari. The whole point of this amnesty in 2007 was that at the time the president, Pervez Musharraf, was coming under massive pressure from the outside world to hold democratic elections. But the late Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari wouldn't return to Pakistan because of charges against them ? corruption charges against them. They didn't want to be arrested. So the president at the time passed this amnesty to allow them to come back and re-enter politics. What we didn't know at the time was that these 8,000 others were also included in this list. When that became public there was hue and cry and it was taken to the Supreme Court who had thrown it out.

WERMAN: Aleem is this the judiciary in Pakistan throwing its weight around? I mean what really is at the root of this decision to scrap this amnesty?

MAQBOOL: To be honest with you since President Musharraf left the people in this country have been disappointed that all of the promises that were made by the new government haven't really come into force. The president, Asif Ali Zardari, said he would reduce his powers because of course President Musharraf had increased them. People have been very disappointed and there was beginning to be a real push that something had to be done to distance the current government with the ways of the past. I have to say a lot of people seem to feel that somehow the politicians are going to wriggle out of this and save themselves again.

WERMAN: I mean the view from United States is always that Pakistan seems, at least in the last few years, to be in a state of continual chaos and this doesn't really help that reputation at all. What is the effect on the US relationship with Pakistan especially as the US is looking for a leadership there?

MAQBOOL: Well so far I mean the White House has said this is Pakistan's own problem and it respects the court decision. A lot of people here in fact are blaming the United States in some regard because of the pressure that was being put on General Masharraf to allow Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari to enter into politics again. So there is going to be a strain as well because the United States is also going to want to see results on its interests which is of course the war on militancy, on terrorism, in the northwest of the country. If American doesn't have a solid government to back then it is going to be fearful about the future. Already you know we've had attacks in the last couple of months which a) have killed over 500 Pakistanis and b) have attacked some of the most sensitive targets. You know the army headquarters for example. The main intelligence agency headquarters as well. So while that's going on there's already the fear that militants could potentially go further. You know perhaps nuclear facilities might be at risk. Perhaps the government itself, the seat of government itself, might be at risk. And obviously destabilization of the government doesn't help in any regard with any of those things.

WERMAN: The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad. Thank you.

MAQBOOL: No problem.