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Amnesty deal paves way for Bhutto

  • Story Highlights
  • Pakistan Cabinet to lift corruption charges against Benazir Bhutto
  • Powerful intelligence agency chief named as Musharraf's military successor
  • 85 Pakistani opposition lawmakers resign from the country's parliament
  • Move is latest effort to derail President Pervez Musharraf's reelection bid
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LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN ) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf named his successor to the country's top military post Tuesday in what may be an effort to ease concerns over his pledge to step down as army chief post as he seeks a third term as president.

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Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto says she will return if charges against her are lifted.

Musharraf's government also agreed to lift charges against exiled opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who has repeatedly called for free and fair elections scheduled for later this year or early next year.

Parliament is scheduled to elect a new president Saturday, despite the boycott of 85 opposition lawmakers who tendered their resignations on Tuesday to protest Musharraf's bid for another five-year term.

While the boycott will not affect parliament's vote, the two candidates vying to replace Musharraf as president want Pakistan's top court to stop Saturday's vote saying it is unconstitutional for a military officer to seek the presidency within two years of holding rank.

In addition, they are arguing that the constitution calls for an elected official to step down and wait a year before seeking a third term.

The two candidates -- retired Judge Wajihuddin Ahmed and vice chairman of Pakistan People's Party Makhdoom Amin -- filed petitions Tuesday against Musharraf's eligibility. The Supreme Court is to hear the case Wednesday.

Over the weekend, Pakistan's election commission handed Musharraf a key victory, accepting his nomination to seek a third term. That decision prompted clashes between police and anti-Musharraf protesters.Video Watch protests in Pakistan »

If the vote goes ahead on Saturday, Musharraf is expected to secure the more than 50 votes in parliament needed to secure a new mandate.

Musharraf on Tuesday named Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani -- currently the head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency -- to take his place as Pakistan's military chief.

Musharraf did not announce when Kiyani will take over as army chief. The Pakistani leader has only said that he will abandon the post sometime before he takes the oath of office again, if lawmakers approve a fresh mandate on Saturday. The new five-year term will start on Nov. 15.

Arif Nizami, editor of the Pakistani daily, The Nation, said Kiyani is generally regarded as "in the same mold as General Musharraf."

"Musharraf has chosen a successor very carefully who will continue his policies and he will be as pro-western as General Musharraf is," Nizami told CNN International.

However, he pointed out that "once the army chief is there, he is his own man and you can't be 100 percent sure what kind of policies he'll pursue."

As army chief, Musharraf implemented the 1999 coup that brought him to power.

Last month, Musharraf pledged to take off his general's uniform before he takes the oath of office again, if lawmakers approve a fresh mandate on Saturday. The new five-year term will start on November 15.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz called for an emergency cabinet meeting Tuesday in which a majority of ministers agreed that longstanding corruption charges against Bhutto should be lifted, allowing her to participate in upcoming elections, minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad told CNN.

He said the government's decision to grant amnesty to Bhutto, head of the Pakistan People's Party, is expected to be finalized in the coming days.

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Speaking to CNN last week, Bhutto said she had asked Musharraf to provide "me with the security that I'm entitled to as a former prime minister" when she returns from self-imposed exile on October 18.

One of Bhutto's rivals, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was swiftly sent back to Saudi Arabia last month when he tried to return to Pakistan. Bhutto said she did not believe she would be deported, though she added that she has received no assurances from Musharraf.

Bhutto said she has grown increasingly pessimistic about reaching a power-sharing deal with Musharraf after he refused to give up his army chief post before seeking a third term.

Musharraf has seen his power erode since a failed effort earlier this year to fire the Supreme Court's chief justice. His administration is also struggling to contain a surge in Islamic militancy.

While the decision to allow Bhutto back in the country will pave the way for her participation in parliamentary elections, she still faces criticism for having held direct talks with Musharraf and considering a post -- possibly as prime minister -- within his government.

"Now she's seen more as a part of the present government, but at the same time, Miss Bhutto wants to give the impression that she's in the opposition," Arif Nizami said.

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Nizami also pointed out that her amnesty "doesn't mean much in the sense that the present role of the courts means that anybody can go and appeal."

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CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi in Lahore contributed to this report

All About Benazir BhuttoNawaz SharifPervez MusharrafPakistan

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