Pakistan Told Clinton Law Will Take Course in Sharif Trial

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - During his stopover in Islamabad last Saturday, President Clinton raised the issue of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's trial in talks with General Pervez Musharraf, now military ruler.

Reports said the president had urged Musharraf not to execute Sharif, even if he was found guilty.

Musharraf has reportedly given no such guarantee, but told Clinton the law would take its own course.

A Pakistani court is expected to pronounce its verdict in the hijacking, kidnapping and terrorism case against Sharif on April 6.

"I will try to announce the judgment on April 6," anti-terrorist court judge Rehmat Hussain Jafri said Wednesday.

"Let me assure you that the decision will be done according to law," the judge told a packed courtroom as the 40-day proceedings ended.

Lawyers defending the former premier, his brother, and five others concluded their final argument today. The charges carry the death penalty.

Sharif is accused of not allowing a civilian plane carrying then Army Chief General Musharraf, whom Sharif had just sacked, to land in Karachi last October 12, diverting it instead to another city, Nawabshah.

With its fuel running low, the plane was eventually allowed to land only after troops loyal to Musharraf seized control of the airport. The military seized power several hours later.

"We have full confidence in you and the court," leading defense counsel Khwaja Sultan told the judge. "We have no complaints. I feel that the court is not prone to any sort of pressure."

He said the accused would lodge an appeal in a higher court should the verdict go against them.

Chief public prosecutor Raja Qureshi said that if the state lost its case, it too would "have the right to file an appeal in seven days."

"I have full faith in Allah. I am innocent," Sharif said outside the courtroom as the trial ended.

"Musharraf says that he is not vindictive. He is vindictive and has crossed all boundaries," he added.

In 1979, during the regime of Pakistan's last military ruler, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged on a disputed conviction of conspiring to commit political murder.

Sharif first appeared before the court on November 19, a month after he was ousted. He was formally charged two months later and his trial began on January 26.

During the trial, lawyers representing Sharif temporarily withdrew from the case to protest a court gag order on evidence by the accused.

One of the defense team, Iqbal Radh, was later gunned down in his Karachi chambers by unidentified assailants.