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NEW YORK, June 1: Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, President of Supreme Court Bar Association and a leader of Pakistan People’s Party, has severely criticised his party’s co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari for dragging his feet on restoration of the judiciary because he “doesn’t want independent judges”.

In a highly volatile and extensive interview with the New York Times magazine (Ahsan was on the cover of the magazine), he said that most charges of corruption against Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Asif Ali Zardari were justified. It may be mentioned that Barrister Ahsan was the minister of interior in the first government of Benazir Bhutto.

The author of the article, James Traub, writes: “I asked him (Mr Ahsan) how many of the allegations of corruption he believed were justified.

“Most of them,” Mr Ahsan said, after a moment’s reflection.

“The type of expenses that she had and he has are not from sources of income that can be lawfully explained and accounted for.”

In the interview which was conducted over a week, James Traub said that Mr Ahsan recognised that the PPP was itself a feudal and only marginally democratic body led by a figure accused of corruption and violence.

Mr Ahsan, who defended both Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Zardari in 14 cases, told Times that the charges of “corruption against both” and in Mr Zardari’s case also of “kidnapping, ransom and murder”, were justified.

“Ahsan”, said the interviewer, “is almost recklessly outspoken about PPP leaders, even though they are his own political patrons. He speaks admiringly of Benazir Bhutto’s courage and steadfastness but also points out with disdain that she viewed herself as the PPP’s ‘life chairperson’. And he does not bother to conceal his dim view of Zardari.”

Besides, the Times article said, Mr Ahsan believed that in the aftermath of the Lahore incident, wherein he saved former federal minister Sher Afghan from the wrath of the people ‘that he is more famous in the country than at any other time’.

“And I have become much more famous.” The thought tickled both his vanity and his sense of irony. “I’m being treated,” he said, “like the policeman who’s rescued the cat from the tree”.

On Mr Ahsan’s decision not to contest polls, Traub said: “I spoke to Mr Ahsan by phone a few days later. He had decided not to contest a by-election slated for this summer. He had decisively chosen movement politics over party politics, and perhaps he was happiest there. Mr Zardari and the PPP seemed to have increasingly thrown in their lot with Mr Musharraf, appointing allies of the president to key posts. Mr Ahsan wasn’t worried that a new round of protests, this time directed in part at his own party, would divide the country.

“There’s enormous popular support for my position,” he said. And he was, as ever, blithe in the face of confrontation. “I’m comfortable,” he reported from his home in Lahore. “I have no problem.”

On the issues of judges and confrontation between Mr Zardari and Mr Ahsan, Traub relates: “On the morning flight from Karachi to Sukkur, a city in the southern province of Sindh where the Pakistan People’s Party high command was going for an annual pilgrimage to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s grave site — now that of his daughter as well —Ahsan was approached by Farooq Naek, the law minister and a party leader. Naek, according to Ahsan, asked him to mute his harsh criticism of Zardari and the party. Zardari had reached an agreement with Nawaz Sharif to reinstate the judges within 30 days of the formation of the new government, and Naik implored Ahsan to show some faith and trust. Ahsan agreed to act as if he accepted their bona fides, though he didn’t altogether.

He says he believed that Zardari feared that Chaudhry and other apolitical judges might restore some of the cases against him that had been summarily dismissed. Ahsan seemed quite blithe about these concerns.

When I asked if he worried that the lawyers could be blamed for splitting the fragile coalition, he said, “if the party doesn’t act, it will force a debate inside the party, and that would be a good thing.” That night he pushed Zardari hard at the party’s conclave near the Bhutto family grave site; Zardari pushed back, insisting, according to Raja Adil Bashir, a party official, that the lawyers “should not try to threaten the government.”