Pakistan's highest court has granted bail to the jailed husband of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, paving the way for his release after eight years in prison. The government is promising to honor the decision.

Ms. Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, had been charged with more than a dozen separate criminal acts, ranging from corruption to murder. He was arrested on charges of corruption in November 1996, soon after his wife and her government were removed from power.

Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered that Mr. Zardari be released on bail, in a case involving the alleged misuse of government funds while his wife was in power.

He had already been tried and convicted in several other cases, but those verdicts were set aside on appeal, and he had been granted bail in those. It was only the case of misuse of funds that was keeping him in prison.

A defense lawyer, Farooq Naek, says the government should respect the court's ruling and release Mr. Zardari from custody. Mr. Naek says this will improve relations between the government and the political opposition.

"I hope he [Mr. Zardari] would be released and he would be a free citizen and the government would not institute any other false and fabricated cases to politically victimize him and his spouse, Benazir Bhutto," he said.

Commenting on the court's decision, Federal Information Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed told reporters the government would honor the court's decision and would release Mr. Zardari.

Based on standard judicial procedures, Mr. Zardari could be freed within several days.

Former Prime Minister Bhutto, who lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London, heads the Pakistan People's Party, one of the main opposition groups in the parliament. Ms. Bhutto and her husband maintain the charges against them have been politically motivated.