Omar Waraich: If proved, these charges could prove explosive for Zardari

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The Independent Online

If Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is anxious about his past returning to haunt him, he has betrayed no sign of it.

When the allegations by independent French investigators surfaced, government ministers reacted with contempt. Within the space of a few hours, Zardari loyalists issued a cascade of denials that their leader, or any other Pakistani official, had been involved.

The story itself has received relatively little play in Pakistan. Part of the reason lies in the fact that the local media's attention has been focused on the army's battles against the Taliban, and the cricket team's recent triumph. As a rule, Pakistani journalists are careful in reporting allegations that involve senior officials. Without concrete evidence, it is a risk that few can afford.

If such evidence were to emerge, however, the consequences for Mr Zardari's government would be explosive.

The President has already served 11-and-a-half years in jail, and earned the soubriquet "Mr 10 Per Cent", for allegedly salting away the spoils of power during his slain wife Benazir Bhutto's time as prime minister.

Mr Zardari has denied any wrongdoing. Among the charges to which he was linked were that he allegedly received kickbacks from the purchase of three French Agosta 90B submarines. At the time, Mr Zardari was serving as investment minister in his wife's second government.

But as one of his aides points out, he has the perfect alibi for 2002, the year the engineers were killed: he was in jail at the time. The original case against the jihadists has begun to fracture under judicial scrutiny. Could the trail lead, as the French investigators suspect, to dark forces within Pakistan's military establishment?