Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Unholy Alliance Signals Bad Days Ahead

By: Muhammad Mahtab Bashir

An eight-year stint of an autocratic rule in this superfluous olden imperial fashion should have been enough for a mortal soul but General wants it till eternity. Nothing evidently harms his conscience so for even while promulgating the NRO, giving the blanket amnesty to Benazir Bhutto, our twice elected prime minister and twice-dismissed on corruption charges. In the name of National Reconciliation, General Pervez Musharraf allows to pardon every massive corruption allegedly committed by ‘daughter of the East’. Both General and BB are serving each other's vested interests in the name of the people of Pakistan and democracy.

With the promulgation of much-talked about the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) this Friday, which provides across-the-board indemnity to alleged corruption and corrupt practices by politicians and holders of public offices in the past from January 1, 1986 to October 12, 1999, will be withdrawn and terminated with immediate effect, amounts to nothing short of opening this country and its assets to anyone who is willing to loot it and get away with it as long as he/ she supports the General for his presidential aspirations. It has exposed the bare bones of General Musharraf’s lust for power and in order to satiate it, he can go to any extent. The black ordinance has exposed the nature of his willingness to cling to power even at the cost of selling the whole nation away. The Ordinance also seeks to terminate all cases initiated in foreign countries by the government during this period, clearly benefiting Benazir Bhutto. The full scope of this indemnity also covers bureaucrats and bankers. The NRO has also clipped the powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) regarding arresting parliamentarians without the prior permission of a newly formed Special Parliamentary Committee on Ethics.

The General calls it a landmark while independent voices call it just about the most discriminatory piece of legislation in the country's history. Whether it actually does qualify the latter dubious distinction or not, it is nonetheless not too proud a moment in our constitutional history.

The government is selling the Ordinance as an attempt to avoid the politics of political vendetta and victimisation and is heralding its promulgation as the dawning of a new era of tolerance and fair play. The message that has been sent to ordinary Pakistanis is that it pays to be a politician and it pays to involve oneself in corrupt practices.

Meanwhile, Benazir Bhutto seeks the instant withdrawal of letters and communications that the government had sent to the foreign prosecution authorities in Switzerland, England and Spain against her, fearing that the local courts would strike down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) anytime. Sources having knowledge of what has been discussed between the two sides before the promulgation of the NRO, reveal that both the sides know well and discussed it too that the most controversial ordinance of the country's history would be struck down by the court of law as soon as it is challenged.

It is more interesting in knowing that BB charged with corruption worth Rs 90 billion in NAB courts set up my General’s regime himself. Now she has sought indemnity for herself and her likes in the name of "democracy" and made Musharraf dance to her tunes. It is not a crime, it is called political maneuvering, in better words political sagacity.
Full marks to Naseerullah Babar for resigning from PPP and hats off to Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, who dared to call a spade a spade, and voiced his opposition to such an amnesty for a "selected few". Knowing well that her leader is the mover of this shameful demand, he said that any law offering amnesty to a selected class of the society would be immediately struck down by the Supreme Court.

Addressing the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz described the NRO as an important step in creating an atmosphere of tolerance and harmony in national politics, free of vendetta and polarization that marred the national political scene in the decades of 1980 and 1990. He highlighted the fact that the proposed ordinance includes important elements to ensure transparency of the election process. He said his government was proud of the fact that it took this decision in the best interest of the country where the election process had in the past been subjected to accusations and counter accusations.

Chairperson of Pakistan People’s Party Benazir Bhutto gave her concurrence to the NRO, as she herself, her spouse Asif Zardari and several key PPP leaders would be the major beneficiaries of it. The prestige and dignity one was the eminence of PPP now a history.

The late ZAB was a man of sterling qualities. He built-up a plat-form of democratization to this country through his unflinching determinations. He studded this nation with nuclear capabilities. He defied the army dictator and opted death to surrender down. In contrast, his daughter played the game just opposite to father’s legacy. Apart from aching her father’s soul, daughter of the east also lacerates the millions of activists who have been working selflessly for a cause of restoration of democracy. This deal surely exposed BB’s crooked intentions.
This Musharraf-Bhutto deal would be remembered as “marriage of convenience”. Under the provision of this ordinance, the NAB chairman shall not be able to arrest any sitting member of the Parliament or a provincial assembly unless he secures the consent of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Ethics, both at the federal and provincial levels. The NAB chairman will have to produce entire material and evidence before the committee.
However, those proceedings shall not be withdrawn and terminated which relate to cases registered in connection with the cooperative societies and other financial and investment companies or in which no appeal, revision or constitutional petition has been filed against final judgment and order of the court or in which an appellate or revision order or an order in constitutional petition has become final or in which voluntary return or plea bargain has been accepted by the chairman NAB under section 25 or recommendations of the conciliation committee have been accepted by the governor State Bank of Pakistan under Section 25-A.

Asked during a live TV interview whether this "reconciliation" will also extend to Mian Nawaz Sharif, the General replied: "After the election, we will see about (Nawaz's return) and reconciliation." Clearly, this is a People's Party affair; the rest of the acquitted were just lucky enough to get in the way.The cheekiest thing about the Ordinance is the mockery it makes of the basic concept of the rule of law. If Benazir Bhutto were adamant that the cases against her were false, politically motivated ones, it would be a seemingly incorrect but not absurd claim; court cases being used for political victimisation is, after all, an old practice throughout the developing world. But the way to get around that is to have the courts themselves acquit the accused parties through the law of the land. The sadder part is that even if this piece of 'legislation' were not an Ordinance, but a bill, put before any chamber of legislature during the specified period, it might have been passed by an overwhelming majority: why shouldn't it? It grants near total immunity to the ruling class. There has always been cut off between the rulers and the ruled.

The 10-member bench of the Supreme Court has ruled that the presidential poll could go ahead as scheduled but its result be not notified until October 17 when it is expected to pass its verdict on the petitions challenging the eligibility of Musharraf’s candidacy. Whatever, the Premiere Court makes the ruling, would augment political instability and insecurity for a time being.

Other than the once Royal couple or future Royal couple I may say, the MQM, a powerful ally of the (Musharraf Military) Government, also stands to benefit through this ordinance following last-minute changes to the draft. Thousands of its workers charged with serious offences during the period also stand to get a clean chit.Now the country is passing through the days where there will be surprises, unpredictable developments and uncertainties very frequently. Let us see what happens in the future but giving indemnity to the corrupt people would surely open the gates for massive corruption in the future.

However it is apparent that both the principal players will go all-out to assail the Islamists who are usually called "Taliban" and "Al-Qaeda" members. The result would be more sufferings for Pakistan and its people because the country would turn into the main combat zone for those opposing American hegemony and Washington and its supporters who are bent upon in avoiding what they called "terrorism". Confinement of security forces personnel and recovery of disfigured bodies of three hostages in South Waziristan is an obvious pointer to the terrible days ahead.

The promulgation of NRO also puts a lot of reservation over the justification for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which has, over the years, received the infamy of being a partisan institution. In April this year, the government’s decision to abolish the Special Operation Division of NAB that had been set up as its subsidiary to investigate cases of corruption against politicians had caused ripples in the political circles. The move was viewed in the context of reports about ‘secret’ negotiations between President Musharraf’s representatives and Benazir Bhutto for a power-sharing deal. Now that the rationale behind the existence of NAB has been washed away by the NRO, it can be argued that it should be wrapped up. So interesting in knowing that instead of tightening the noose against crooked politicians, the institutions of nabbing these persons are being closed forever.

General Musharraf has been under pressure to strike a deal with the PPP for two reasons. The US has urged General Musharraf to make a deal with Benazir as she represents an ‘enlightened’ and ‘liberal’ political party inside the country. The question is, will this marriage of convenience promise stability to the already fragile political structure of Pakistan? Given our past record, it seems unlikely that the upcoming political dispensation will solve even the basic political snags Pakistan has been facing for decades. Another query that cropped up in many minds is who will enjoy the lion’s share in this ‘unholy alliance’.

Billions of taxpayers’ money is spent on the prosecution of corrupt politicians. With the signing of national reconciliation ordinance these corrupt politicians will be washed of corruption and Gen. Musharraf would become an elected president for the next five years. What the nation would get from this ordinance?

The Supreme Court and Lahore High Court have already been requested to adjudicate the legality of the recently promulgated National reconstruction Ordinance (NRO) that patently and manifestly violated Article 25 of the Constitution because it provided for withdrawal of cases only against public office holders. This ordinance is also in contravention of the principle of equality of status under Article 2-A, Article 4 and Article 8 of the Constitution. The ‘Mal-intent behind issuance of the ordinance’ should not be ignored because it gave protection to people accused of plundering the national exchequer. The NRO has been promulgated after talks with a political party while under the Constitution; an ordinance could be promulgated only in national interest. The timing of the promulgation of this ordinance also reflected that General Musharraf had done it to perpetuate his rule. The NRO is a reward for plunderers of the national wealth and a tool for new rulers to steal people’s wealth again.

Reconciliation at the institutional level must be done in a manner where relationship becomes impartial, strength of institutions is shared, and each institution needs an internal look on its own overhauling. For citizens when institutions become law abiding, the rule of law becomes the order of the day and justice in all spheres of life becomes the trademark of society. A just society is based on equality, esteem, and shared objectives No reconciliation can take place if the individuals and respective institutions do not function in a defined framework. Two power-hungry putting 160 millions souls on stake, for what? Astounding yet deplorable.
The truth is that General Musharraf’s government spent billions of taxpayers’ money on the print and electronic media for self-projection. I would round off this piece of writing in saying that, Musharraf's regime shall ruin this land if he will stay longer as his good governance, harmony, and reconciliation are mere rhetoric when measured on a fact sheet these days. General has already eight years and failed to deliver, so now he must step down from everywhere. Save the army, save the nation, save the country.

The country can't afford a president, who is the object of people's hatred, whose presence triggers odium between law enforcing agencies and civilians, who compromises on national security, who subverts the Constitution, whose leadership weakens the centre and widens the chasm between the provinces, who can't defend the country, who is battling a proxy war against the people of his own country, and last but surely not least who provides shelter to corrupt persons under NRO and named it an act of reconciliation in national interest. God bless this country!

The author is a freelance columnist and a political analyst from Islamabad.

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Emaad Qureshi