April 1998 News

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Benazir paid Labour MP - for support on Kashmir issue

15th April 1998

By Amit Baruah

ISLAMABAD, April 14. :The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader, Ms. Benazir Bhutto, has accused the Ehtesab (Accountability) Bureau chief, Mr. Saifur Rehman, of acting like an ``enemy agent''. Ms. Bhutto's outburst against Mr. Rehman follows a report in the British Sunday Times newspaper which quoted him as saying that as Prime Minister she had paid up to œ300,000 to Mr. George Galloway, a Labour MP.

Mr. Rehman reportedly stated that Pakistan paid the money to a magazine started by Mr. Galloway in 1996 in return for support on the Kashmir issue.

``There is an investigation into money given to Galloway's company to help set up the magazine,'' Mr. Rehman was quoted as saying. He maintained that Ms. Bhutto had been trying to use Mr. Galloway as her lobbyist ``under the cover of raising the issue of Kashmir''.

In a statement, Ms. Bhutto stated: ``It is not so much of a malicious attempt by the regime to malign the Opposition leader as it is an unpardonable act to scandalise the honourable British MP known for supporting Pakistani causes.''

``For Senator Saifur Rehman to now allege in a newspaper interview that an honourable British MP, a friend of Pakistan and the recipient of Pakistan's highest civil award, received dubious doles and was on the payroll of Benazir Bhutto amounts to ridiculing our friends and has brought the country lasting shame,'' the PPP chief said.

Ms. Bhutto pointed out that it was during her previous term as Prime Minister that the Labour Party, then in Opposition, had passed a resolution for the first time expressing grave concern at the situation in Kashmir. Mr. Galloway, she claimed, was in the forefront of the passage of this resolution. For his relentless efforts to highlight the Kashmir issue, the Government had honoured him with Pakistan's highest civil award.

According to her, the ``spiteful regime'', a reference to the Nawaz Sharif Government, had damaged Pakistan's ``vital national interests'' as well as the Kashmiri cause.

The ``implications'' for the ``cause'' as a result of the Sharif Government's slander campaign would haunt Pakistan for a long time, she claimed. Referring to the charge that she paid the money, Ms. Bhutto stated that she was ``least bothered'' about the allegations.

There seems to be little doubt that the statement made by Mr. Saifur Rehman is a major embarrassment to the Government of Pakistan which never misses a chance to stress its ``principled position'' on Kashmir.

However, the allegations of money changing hands on the issue of Kashmir adds another dimension to the whole issue.

Given the fact that these allegations have been supported by Mr. Saifur Rehman, a close friend and trusted confidant of the Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, this issue is bound to ``be around'' for some time.

It is believed that Mr. Rehman, who has masterminded the probe into the illegal funds held by Ms. Bhutto and her husband, Mr. Asif Zardari, has carried his ``personal vendetta'' a little too far.

Since Pakistan has convinced itself that its designs on Kashmir and the national interest are synonymous, Opposition politicians are likely to have a field day in attacking the Government for a statement made by one of its top functionaries.


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