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November 19, 1999
Ordinary Pakistanis welcome crackdown on corruption
Tahir Ikram in Islamabad
Ordinary Pakistanis have applauded their new military ruler's crackdown on the country's political and business elite, including former prime minister Nawaz Sharief, for alleged loan defaults and corruption.
''When people become powerful they become pharaohs, they forget they are just humans,'' a farmer, Malik Bashir, said at a bank counter in the capital Islamabad today.
''Now look at where Sharief is, in prison, where others are, behind bars like ordinary people,'' Bashir said with a grin.
Sharief, in his first public appearance since he was ousted by the military last month, appeared in a Karachi court today in a legal process that could lead to a death sentence.
He had been formally handed over to police for questioning on kidnapping and attempted murder charges. Sharief is alleged to have tried to divert an aircraft which was taking army chief General Pervez Musharraf to Karachi from Sri Lanka on October 12.
Hours after the plane touched down in Karachi that day, Musharraf overthrew Sharief.
''I would never have imagined that Sharif, who was so powerful, would be in this situation...it's mind boggling,'' Bashir said.
Musharraf, who gave loan defaulters one month to pay up or face harsh punishment, began arresting defaulters and others accused of corrupt practices this week.
Bashir said it was the first time any government had touched the ''mighty'' people of Pakistan for corruption or for not paying back loans.
At least 28 Pakistanis, including three former cabinet ministers, have been arrested in the anti-corruption drive in the last several days.
The crackdown, the first major test of Gen Musharraf's military rule, appears to be aimed at most political groups.
''I am happy that he (Gen. Musharraf) has arrested people across the board,'' said Kamran Ahmed at a video rental outlet. ''This is a start and a good first step.''
Pakistani officials say loan defaulters -- who owe an estimated 4.1 billion dollars to the banks and financial institutions -- have used their political clout in successive governments to avoid having to pay the money back.
But soon after seizing power General Musharraf pledged to start across-the-board accountability.
Those convicted of corruption face up to 14 years in jail, fines and the loss of political rights for up to 21 years under new laws put in place on Wednesday.
The news daily said in its editorial that the crackdown was a stunning display of political will and urged the authorities to ''march on'' to make Pakistan clean and fair.
It said the list of those arrested ''read like a who's who of Pakistan.''
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