The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Zardari free again, but plot thickens

Karachi, Dec. 22 (Reuters): The husband of Pakistani Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was freed today, a day after his re-arrest looked to have dimmed hopes for reconciliation with President Pervez Musharraf.

Asif Ali Zardari had been freed on bail on November 22 after spending eight years in jail on charges of corruption, murder and drug smuggling, but was arrested again yesterday after failing to appear at a bail hearing in a murder case against him.

The high court in the southern province of Sindh, sitting today, suspended the previous day's decision of an anti-terrorism court and ordered Zardari's release from detention at his residence in Karachi on 300,000 rupees bail.

Zardari's re-arrest appeared to dim hopes of reconciliation between former Prime Minister Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party and Musharraf, a key ally of Washington in the war on terror.

However, some analysts said it might have been orchestrated by figures in the military government worried about losing influence should the reconciliation process move forward, rather than by Musharraf himself.

'It's to do with local ambitions and local politics,' said newspaper editor and political commentator Najam Sethi. 'I don't think Musharraf had a hand in that.'

At a news conference after police guards withdrew from his residence, Zardari praised the court ruling. 'Today's decision proves that we are right and they were wrong,' he said.

Zardari said he could not identify those behind his latest detention, but added: 'I can definitely think there is some power behind it.' 'We are not confrontationalists,' he said.

Zardari was detained at Islamabad airport as he arrived to meet supporters who had planned rallies in Punjab, Pakistan's most important province politically, which is controlled by the pro-military faction of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

Police lobbed tear gas and used batons to break up a crowd of about 500 supporters who tried to enter the airport to greet him, detaining and injuring dozens.

In television interviews overnight, Bhutto, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid arrest herself in corruption cases, appeared conciliatory. She blamed opponents of reconciliation for Zardari's detention. 'I hope it doesn't mean that the regime is changing its view on national reconciliation and I hope the people trying to stop the reconciliation process will not succeed,' the Daily Times quoted her as telling CNN.

Bhutto said her party understood Pakistan was a key ally in the US-led anti-terror war, but added that domestic stability depended on dialogue with popular political forces and called on the international community to support this.

'We have argued that stability in Pakistan depends on resolving problems between General Musharraf and the Opposition,' she said.

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