Pakistan's Military ruler, Gen. Zia Ul-Haq gave notice today that unless the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence passed on deposed prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, he would not exercise his perrogative of mercy.
In doing so, Zia implicitly rejected appeals from prime ministers and presidents all over the world, and, most importantly, he turned down a tough message from King Khalid of Saudi Arabia. The king had cited "moral and financial" considerations which ought to weigh with Zia and warned of worsening relations if Bhutto is hanged.
The Saudis have very close emotional and financial ties with Pakistan and over the past few months have committed about $400 million in aid and investment here.
Seven judges of the Supreme Court are currently hearing a defense petition, calling on the four who upheld Bhutto's conviction on a charge of conspiracy to murder, to revierw their decision. The defense maintains that serious errors of fact and law were made. Dthe hearing is expected to end early next week.
At a press conference in Lahore today, Zia was in no mood for conciliation. He had also changed his mind about leaving the final decision on executing Bhutto to a concensus of his military council and civilian Cabinet. Indeed, he denied that the had ever intended asking his colleagues for approval on the issue.
It is understood here that the military ruler encountered considerable resistance from civilian Cabinet members, particularly the policicians who wanted no part in deciding Bhutto's fate.
"There is no harm in consulting them, but it doesn't alter the constitutional position, which vests all power in me to dispose of the mercy petition in any manner I like," Zia said.
"There is only one person. It is me who can accept or reject the appeal, irrespective of the fact whether I take their advice or not.
"I see no justification why a head f state should come to a decision contrary to what has been decided by the courts."
Zia disclosed that over the past 18 months nearly 400 people have been hanged after he rejected their petitions.
Zia denied that Bhutto's case had anything to do with politics.
"It is a pure and simple criminal case," he maintained. "It has no political impoications at all, Except that vested interests are trying to politicize it.