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The NRO in Hindsight

Posted on 19 November 2009 by PakBee - Total hits: 2,316

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BLACK as the National Reconciliation Ordinance was, no one can deny it served a political purpose and helped bring democracy back to Pakistan. In hindsight, one gains a clearer perspective on Benazir Bhutto’s viewpoint.

She was being asked to come back to Pakistan and rejoin the political mainstream and provide some semblance of democracy to Gen Musharraf’s rule. The Bush government was in power in the US, and it was reluctant to see Gen Musharraf go, yet was finding it difficult to support him in power on an as-is basis. The idea of Benazir providing a political façade, perhaps with control over some aspects of governance, partnering with Musharraf in control of certain other key matters of state, was devised.
The NRO was the price Benazir set for her comeback — and understandably, whatever the remit agreed for her as prime minister in the new set-up, she wanted to work in the role at least unfettered by politically motivated cases against her and her family.

True, statespersons should not require ordinances conferring immunity from legal cases, but historically Pakistan’s judicial record and tradition had been dismal. Up to that point, the judiciary had proved itself weak and endorsed every dictator and served every civilian ruler. Given that background, the flawed NRO, or specifically its aim of providing relief from a political witch-hunt against Benazir Bhutto, did help spur the return of democracy in the country by allowing her to return. That much has to be said for it.

Side by side, ironically, a military dictator, to his own later dismay, became instrumental in laying the foundations of a stronger future for democracy by unshackling the media. The people power that brought back Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was made possible only because the lawyers’ movement was able to use the media effectively. Previous such movements by the intelligentsia, such as the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Ziaul Haq’s time, failed partly due to a weak and gagged media.

Now the judiciary has turned a corner, and is bringing about revolutionary and historic changes in its own ranks, besides helping to make other institutions stronger. The removal of PCO judges was unheard of in the past — now we have seen that too.

The Supreme Court’s referral of Musharraf’s ordinances back to parliament, instead of judging them in the courts, has brought about the miracle of the NRO’s death at the hands of the National Assembly during the PPP’s own rule — though unfortunately, the military had to give a helping hand in choking the NRO. But one is witnessing a display of increasing maturity on the part of the military establishment as well. The media, too, is at its strongest ever in Pakistan. Given these developments, especially in the character of the judiciary, i.e. its newfound independence, the NRO’s original purpose stands dissipated. Firstly, both the PPP and the PML-N have learnt painful lessons with regard to the pitfalls of using the judiciary to settle political scores, which is that only non-democratic forces gain from it in the long run. Secondly, it is highly unlikely that a judiciary that stood up to a military dictator in the recent past, and purged itself of the black sheep thereafter, will be in any mood to become a tool in the hands of any political party or personality, in office or not.

Thus, at the present time beneficiaries of the NRO should not have any fear of political victimisation resulting from a relapse of the ordinance. They should welcome the hearing of their cases by a strong and independent judiciary, bringing to a close the hideous 60-year-long chapter of judicial collusion in the destruction of democracy and democratic institutions in Pakistan’s history.

Instead, some PPP personalities like Senator Islamuddin Shaikh are even now being heard criticising the PML-N’s opposition to the NRO, citing the indirect benefit to PML-N leaders in terms of being able to contest elections and become part of the revived democratic process.

These criticisms sound hollow and irrelevant, not to mention suspicious, given that the only purpose the NRO would have served in the new order, had it not died, would have been to offer protection to corruption and crime under the guise of ‘national reconciliation’ — given that it is no longer required for protection from political victimisation. In 2007 it served as the jump cable for the motorcar with dead batteries. A jump-start was achieved, the cable is no longer needed. It is the utter misfortune of Pakistan that such politicians as the respected Senator Shaikh, who refuse to acknowledge or learn from their continuing blunders, instead lashing out at any critical voice, still occupy powerful positions and remain committed to their own preservation instead of to governing the country and directing it away from an unfolding implosion. They just don’t know when to move forward.

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One Response to “The NRO in Hindsight”

  1. 1
    Ali Says:

    kiun NRO k beghair democracy kiun naheen a saktee thee, humain aisee democracy naheen chaheay jis mein chooron ko wapis la k mulk ka president oor interior minister banaya jaye, ya to eik bar saree jail khali ker do sb ko muaf ker doo 1947 sey ab tak sare cases dismiss ker do.
    oor eik bat clear hai k is mulk mein democracy ke base Ifthikhar choudhry ney Gen musharaf ko na ker k rakh dee thee, then layer movement oor media.
    eik choor ney dusrey chooron k liey yeh law banaya tha simple is that.

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