Caution Urged As NRO Cases Proceed

Kamran Shafi makes an important prediction in today’s Dawn: “…if this government does not complete its term, neither will the next.” The caution urged by Shafi’s column is all the more noticeable as he was never – and still is not – a defender of the NRO. Quite the opposite, in fact, Mr. Shafi has written extensively against it. But now that the Supreme Court has nullified it, and, most intriguigingly, the way they nullified it, has left him with serious concerns.

But with due respect to their lordships, the way in which the NRO case was heard, or shall I say the way in which it was allowed to be reported in the press and on TV, left a bad taste in the mouth, and has set a very bad precedent at a time of extreme peril for the country.

All through the proceedings there was not a murmur in the press and TV (which were reporting the proceedings of the Supreme Court, mark) about the thousands of murder and hundreds of torture cases whose alleged perpetrators were also beneficiaries of the NRO.

The only name that was bandied about with abandon was that of Asif Zardari; the only litany heard was ‘money laundering, $60m, Swiss courts’ over and over and over again. Not one word about chopped up bodies in gunny bags, or people’s knees and electric drills.

That the NRO has, certainly in the media coverage and popular discourse, been more like an NZO (National Zardari Ordinance). So much so, in fact, that reading the international press coverage, a foreigner would have to be forgiven for thinking that the whole affair is only about Zardari himself and no one else.

Far more than that, the whole exercise appeared politicians-specific. If what is reported is true i.e. that politicians make up only 0.4 per cent of the beneficiaries of the NRO it is astounding that the press should have only (over) amplified the name of just one politician! Indeed, if any bureaucrats were named they were, you guessed it, those closest to Zardari, and none else.

Again, while the press went to town on the way in which the SC rapped the government on the knuckles for transferring the DG FIA who has evidently got a fine reputation, there was no sense of outrage when the defence minister was humiliated while on his way to China (of all countries) on an official visit, on the pretext that his name was on the Exit Control List. This is something that should be immediately noted and condemned by all political parties for if it is a minister of the PPP being disgraced today, it will be one of theirs tomorrow.

I have said it before; I will say it yet again: first one then the other, one by one will our vain establishment finish the leaders of our biggest political parties unless they come together and stand arm in arm, knowing as they should, the extent of the skulduggery that is always at play in the Citadel of Islam.

While we have begun to hear chatter from the right-wing about a Bangladesh model, the danger in this path is much more a Bangladesh model from the the 1990s and 2000s in which political parties use courts and corruption accusations to destabilize and topple the government in hopes of seizing power for themselves.

But these ‘Coups by Courts’ are no more effective, and no more sustainable than coups by military dictators or the much more pleasantly phrased, though equally undemocratic, ‘caretaker governments.’ In fact, this is basically the process that came to see the introduction of the NRO in the first place.

Who should know better than our politicians that united they will stand, divided they will surely fall, as heretofore. To do which, of course, it is imperative that President Asif Zardari and Mr Nawaz Sharif, the leaders of the largest political parties, immediately rein in their hawks (how many times must I say this too?), before they do any more damage to democracy.

Which reminds me. It is really rich of people like Mushahid ‘Mandela’ Hussain, Tariq Azeem and Sheikh Rashid ‘Tulli,’ going about with smug looks on their faces and halos around their heads, talking loftily about how bad the NRO was. They were three pillars of Musharraf’s government, for God’s sake: ‘Mandela,’ the ideologue (!); Azeem the information minister of state; and Master ‘Tulli’ one of Musharraf’s top advisers (I ask you). Do these people have no shame at all?

Indeed, these three were the most vocal when it came to defending Musharraf’s unconstitutional sacking of our superior judiciary — barring the peerless Barrister Saif, of course. There was scarcely a talk-show where one of the three weren’t found, stoutly saying their Great Leader was right and everyone else was wrong.

I remember a TV programme when Azeem refused to admit that the judges were under house arrest even when confronted with proof in the form of pictures of barbed wire and lathi charges and tear gas on protesters on the way to the Judges Colony. Really! What perfidy.

Mr. Shafi ends with a request that echoes my own reaction to the NRO ruling, and my own hopes for how we will proceed in its wake, only, as is his way, Mr. Shafi’s words are much more eloquent than my own:

Let me end with an appeal to all concerned to take two deep breaths; step back; and take a good, hard look at our country. My friends, you will see a fractured and tortured polity: a Balochistan that is bleeding and alienated and brooding; a Sindh that is bewildered and apprehensive; a Frontier in the throes of a cruel and bloody insurrection by our own monsters; and a Punjab, lately the most ‘efficient’ province, increasingly the hapless target of heartless murderers.

Let us ‘bloody civilians’ come together. Rather than indulging in rancour, let us celebrate the little mercies, the recent successes of democracy: the Gilgit-Baltistan elections; the Balochistan package (only a start, I know, but one that can be improved upon); the NFC award (in which all the players, particularly Punjab, played an admirable part); and the appointment of Justice Bhagwandas as the FPSC chairman.

Let the law take its course by all means, but let us, for God’s sake, be civilised about it. For, and mark my words, if this government does not complete its term, neither will the next.

What can I say, but Insha’Allah.

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