Fair and Non-Partisan Process

Today’s Daily Times includes a well-reasoned and fair-minded editorial about how the nation should proceed post-NRO, taking its lead from statements by Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. The Supreme Court declared that an accused person cannot be cleared by an act of Parliament, but also an accused person cannot be convicted by an act of angry mobs and TV commentators. If there is proof of guilt, then there is proof of guilt. But if there is no proof – and proof does not mean rumours, innuendos, political vengeance, or anti-Sindhi racism – then the person’s name should be cleared and there should be no more complaining.

Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer has questioned what he views as the discriminatory and partisan demand for the resignation of PPP ministers whose cases have been reopened after the Supreme Court (SC) struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) when so many others on the political firmament who have similar allegations of corruption against them continue to hold office. He said no case against the PPP ministers or leaders had been proved so far, and the allegations would be defended in court. He also raised the issue of pending cases in the courts that had been hanging fire for years and needed attention. There can be no quibble with the principle that every accused is innocent until proved guilty. Every citizen, from the highest to the lowest, has the right of defence and must be given his or her day in court. The demand for resignations should not become part of partisan political warfare. What is sauce for the goose must also be sauce for the gander.

A controversy has broken out about the monitoring cells for NRO cases set up in the SC and High Courts, which some legal minds see as setting up a ‘special class’ of cases to be expedited while the rest of the backlog of cases have been left in the judicial limbo of delay and procrastination that continues to characterize our justice system despite the recent efforts of the superior judiciary to speed up the process of judicial decision. Others put a positive spin on the monitoring cells as providing relief to the NRO beneficiaries from the previous practice of a decade and more being spent on these cases without closure. The power of the SC or High Courts to set up such monitoring cells is not in doubt, only its use in ‘select’ cases alone.

To put matters in perspective, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has revealed that out of 8,442 cases withdrawn under the NRO, only 10 are against PPP leaders, albeit it must be admitted that these 10 are prominent leaders of the party. The resignation demand, and perhaps its authors’ not so secret desire for mid-term polls has failed to find takers in any of the mainstream parties’ leadership, including the PML-N and PML-Q. The former in fact is engaged it seems in a fence-mending exercise through the meeting expected between Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif even while these lines are being written.

The partisanship of politically motivated accountability in the past has tainted the process’ credibility. The need of the hour is to revisit all the cases, NRO or non-NRO, to see whether any of them are beyond doubt purely politically motivated or have substance. The review should include cases of bank loan write-offs, bureaucratic and military personnel or institutions’ alleged corruption, and all such malfeasance if the Augean stables of corruption’s stink is to be washed away for good. This review, however, can only be carried out by a non-partisan, credible, acceptable across the board accountability commission composed of persons of impeccable credentials. The government and the country would be well served if the former were to seriously start homework on the setting up of such a commission to put the hydra of corruption to rest once and for all. 

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