Lawyers fighting to save the life of Pakistan's deposed prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, have been given only 10 days to prepare their final arguments.
The seven Supreme Court judges, who by a majority decision had upheld Bhutto's death sentence on a charge of conspiracy to murder, granted a stay of execution yesterday but ordered his counsel to begin arguments on Feb. 24 as to why the court ought to review its original decision.
Bhutto had been sentenced to hang Thursday for his role in the 1974 murder of the father of a rival politician.
Yahya Bakhtiar, Bhutto's attorney, contested the amount of time given by the court, saying he should be given the normal 30 days to prepare a full review petition. Chief Justice Anwar ul-Haq said, however, that there was "no question" of this.
"Forget about it," the chief justice said. "I think my colleagues feel we have devoted so much time to this already. All the court is agreed the petition must proceed expeditiously. If you cannot meet this, it is up to you to withdraw."
There were angry exchanges between Bakhtiar and the chief justice.
The judge said the court had studied the 97 pages of the defense petition and were ready to hear argument. "Why, when it has been filed, should it be kept pending?" he asked.
Bakhtiar replied: "I need time. I can find 10 errors on each page, they're written so large."
'So you want the whole case re-argued?" the chief justice asked.
"No, I want to point out the errors of your lordships," Bakhtiar said.
The chief justice told him: "You have filed a petition of 97 pages. All the seven judges have gone through your grounds. It shows an application of mind to almost every paragraph of the judgment, so it is not correct for you to say you have hardly studied it.You and your colleagues have examined it with a fine needle."
Afterward, Bakhtiar said he was "worried they may dismiss the petition on the same day they have set for hearing it. I am not an expert in filibustering, but I need two or three months to argue these points. If I am rushed, I will not be able to do justice to this case."
Bhutto's wife Nusrat and his daughter Benazir, meanwhile, are now being kept under house arrest near a police camp at Sihala, about 15 miles from Rawalpindi.
A visitor to the camp yesterday said the two were not being kept at a guest house as previously believed, but were held in a dirty bungalow once used as government office. The cottage reportedly had no bedding, heating or food. Apart from two beds and a sofa, the bungalow was virtually bare. Some window panes were broken, and had to be boarded up with cardboard.
Police tents have been pitched nearby, and police stand guard outside the windows.