The editorial in today’s Dawn is a voice of reason in the media already calling for the resignation of President Zardari before he is even able to give his defense. The editorial staff who wrote the piece say very reasonably that this is an opportunity for the accused individuals to clear their names in expediency so that the nation may move forward.
Cut through the legalese and understanding the effect of last night’s Supreme Court judgment on the NRO becomes rather straightforward: for all intents and purposes the NRO never existed and the cases withdrawn, the investigations prematurely ended, and the convictions set aside as a result of the NRO have returned to their pre-Oct 5, 2007 status. But, giving cheer to those standing firm on the principles of justice and perhaps sending shivers down the spines of the NRO’s erstwhile beneficiaries, the Supreme Court has also demonstrated its resolve to ensure that the legal process will not continue desultorily and indefinitely. The court has ordered that the NRO-related cases and investigations are to be concluded expeditiously under the watchful gaze of the superior judiciary.
We are grateful that the chaos predicted, perhaps self-servingly, in some quarters is not immediately evident as a result of yesterday’s judgment. There should never have been any fear of that, but in a country where law and politics have so unfortunately been intertwined on so many occasions in the past, anything possibly impacting on the legal status of the holders of high office, especially if they happen to be civilian, inevitably creates political uncertainty. But now that the court has pronounced its judgment and demonstrated a fair and just interpretation of the law and the constitution, it falls upon the former beneficiaries of the NRO to do their part and defend themselves in a court of law. All the NRO beneficiaries have consistently put forward the defence that the cases and investigations against them were politically motivated and have no basis in fact. So now it is incumbent upon them to come forward and prove their innocence in a court of law. There is no dictator on the scene, no kangaroo courts, no government that is bent on eliminating its rivals politically — in short, there is no excuse for the defendants to avoid seeking what they have claimed justice ought to give them.
A word on the president and his entanglement in the NRO is also in order. During the hearings in the Supreme Court, fresh questions were raised about the status of cases in foreign jurisdictions involving alleged graft and a conviction in absentia. The president’s spokespersons have dismissed those allegations and focused on the immunity against criminal proceedings granted to the president under Article 248 of the constitution. Settled legal issues or not, the fact is it is not in the federation’s interest to have Mr Zardari’s legal status as the President of Pakistan in question. So, smart politics demands that the president find a way to put to rest any lingering doubts and, perhaps more importantly, turn the nation’s attention to where it rightly belongs: on parliament.