NROs, Honestly! – by Marvi Sirmed
These are very interesting times in Pakistan. There are accusers, there are victims, there are spectators, there is a mediator, and there is a decider. All of them, not so clean. But all of them set against the victim for something all of them are the culprits – Corruption! The civil society mainly comprising educated urban middle class is taking a position relatively simplistic, but at higher grounds morally. The media is caught up in their own game, which is mainly catering their business interests and strongly rooted right wing elements within its ranks. Political parties are grasping the opportunity to depose present set up to take its place sooner than they had anticipated. The DECIDER is a bit vengeful, and a bit obliged to the right wingers for their support during former’s bad days. So, the whole mesh can be deciphered in one sentence: the accusers are joined by the mediators and deciders to bridle the horses of the victim! This all being purely political, tends to catch on popular morality and sentiment of the have-nots. The spectators, thus, is rolling eyes on whatever is fed to them.
All this mess has translated into an embarrassing situation for those who are at slightly better footings to understand the designs of the infamous. In their bid to decipher the code of this political chess for the masses, they are generally being mistaken as pro-corrupt and favouring corruption. At the risk of being taken as defending them, I’m inclined to record here that all the respectable people who are expressing discontent over the recent NRO verdict, need to be heard for the sake of reason. Whereas the corruption remains a recognized scourge, which has not only almost dissolved the roots of good governance in the country, but has widened the gap between haves and have-nots to an un-bridgeable level. Fighting this malaise should be at the core of any package to deal with over all governance, efficient service delivery to the citizens and economic uplift. Without addressing corruption and misappropriation of public money, no reform agenda can be meaningful and would produce results.
Having said that, let me also note here that corruption unfortunately, remains a common denominator among all the political and non-political actors. The army, the secret agencies, the lawyers, the judiciary, the political parties (including self righteous religious parties), the business class, the agricultural elite, the professionals including doctors and teachers (we have very high profile personalities from academia who are accused of plagiarism), civil bureaucracy, the society in general at all possible levels – corruption in all shapes, forms, intensities and quantities is there. Some say, this endemic is in our “ghutti” (very small dosage of edible, preferably honey, given to the new born as a tradition in sub continent, thought to have lasting effect on child’s future life). When we were born in 1947 as a, probably, NATION, we started our journey towards stability toddling on with highest recorded rate of corruption. The fake Claim documents that most of the newly born Pakistani citizens submitted to the Evacuee Trust, became the Ghutti for this nascent country.
But this does not necessarily mean, we accept it as the odd order of our lives. We need to fight, as already said, this menace in most stern manner. We have come up as one of the most proud nations who have sacrificed lives and soaked the soil of our motherland with our blood. All for the sake of democracy. We have been fighting frequently invading dictators. People of Pakistan have been winning these wars against dictators proudly since last 62 years of our country’s existence. The present victory in terms of winning a democratically elected government is a fruit of people’s consistent struggle and sacrifices. Now, when we got it, we need to monitor it carefully in order for it to get strengthened and meaningfully responsive to people’s needs. But maturity demands a deeper look into the circumstance our system has gotten in. It is very unfortunate that democracy had to put a common denominator a bit backwards on the list of things to do. NRO had to be taken in order to get rid of a dictator.
But lets just touch upon various other NROs, which were never written, but were hatched very successfully in the corridors of power for vested interests.Accountability’s idea first came to the fertile mind of General Zia ul Haq. And his Ehtasaab obviously meant that of PPP. God’s sun witnessed PPP leaders either fleeing the country or languishing in jails and torture cells after brief trials under military and civil courts. This was the time when ehtasaab (accountability) became best tool for intiqaam (revenge), and the tradition went on with no tapering.
When PPP made government in 1988, a parliamentary Committee, Public Accounts Committee unveiled several dozen names of big politicians who had taken hefty loans and written them off. The list still exists in the National Assembly record, which is now under the custody of PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who gave a landmark statement just yesterday that corruption is as important an issue as is terrorism. I hope media would be responsible enough to urge him to unveil that list once again and hand it over to the worthy Supreme Court. It would be easier for the apex court then, to take on the process of anti-corruption it has taken on.
When Farooq Leghari got rid of Benazir’s second government, he very generously made different cases of corruption against BB and Zardari. His interim cabinet tried to make different laws in order to catalyse the process of EHTASAAB. According to Mr. Najam Sethi, the then cabinet member who took care of ehtasaab process, states that a law was proposed by Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim under which the loans defaulters would not be able to contest election. When the list of loans defaulters was submitted by the State Bank, it transpired that loan defaulters were almost all came from Muslim League. Not a single loan was taken by Benazir. Leghari’s scheme failed, BB could not come under it, but his only hope, Nawaz Sharif came under it hugely, who threatened to boycott the elections if the list is not taken back. This became another unwritten NRO. Nawaz Sharif was able to grab power once again under this NRO!
Musharraf came to power after a bloodless coup d’tat in 1999 deposing elected government of Nawaz Sharif. He was arrested and put behind the bars. But something happened and he left the country with bag, baggage and family. This constituted yet another un-written NRO. The deal was sealed, Nawaz Sharif was given what he wanted, lif and enough money to survive. So much so that he was able to set up a steal mill in Jaddah that became a gold mine for him later. Also, we saw a report in Time magazine according to which world’s four richest Generals were Pakistanis. One of them being a former Director General ISI, who was labelled by us as a Shaheed for dying with General Zia, in an air crash. If we rely on the memory of Najam Sethi, there was no denial from concerned Generals, or from Army as institution in question.
Now, come to this written NRO, termed infamous, notorious and black law by our very righteous, sagacious and moral media brigade, was issued by Musharraf in October 2007. In all our passion for fighting corruption and getting the culprits face law, we totally forgot that PPP leaders who were “benefited” by NRO were already languishing in jails. Most elongated time was served by the now president Asif Ali Zardari, the one we hate most. Although, we would like him, and all culprits of corruption to face law and get punished, but still, we need to be a bit fair as well. Even if all the cases put together, and even if all the cases are proved against Zardari or other accused leaders, 8 years is life imprisonment. Some of the people have already served more than this term, in jails, that too, in solitary confinement. The question here arises, why should present government not resign after such allegations? The counter question is, why the accusations should be taken as proved crime? If it is made moral question, are these allegations two days old? If not, then this government came into being while the accusations were there. If moral question was not raised during elections, why it has become prime question at this point in time? Why is the recent NRO verdict taken as “proof of corruption”? It certainly does not speak of someone being proven corrupt, all it says is that an Ordinance (called NRO) should not exist because according to court it is repugnant to the spirit of the Constitution of Pakistan. The fall out of this verdict is to be seen. President has a constitutionally granted impunity while other leaders (predominantly from MQM) would face the cases when re-opened.
Moreover, NRO beneficiaries from PPP were the same when they were elected to public offices in 2008. People who voted for them knew almost everything that our media keeps telling us now. We should indeed start our crusade against corruption, why not with the people, who have neither been tried in any court nor been accused publicly to make them equally responsible for this crime. Why not taking care of those un-written NROs that have always been saved of coming to people’s eyes? So that those who are very sure of their practical impunity, should get it loud and clear that they can’t fool people any more. These professional loan defaulters have taken the benefit of NRO, in that if the NRO was not there, there would not have elections or coming back of Nawaz Sharif to the country.
Politics, they say, is the art of possible. You have to make it possible for yourself to be in the game, play your turn and make the score. Here, “be in the game” would mean be able to contest elections; “play your turn” is making your government and making score is prevail on policy and legislation in order to serve the constituent in accordance with the announced manifesto of your party. If you fail the test, you certainly are an ineffective politician who fails the survival of fittest test. PPP tried to make it possible for not only itself, but other major players also. This could only happen if negotiation table is set and the usurper is made to sit on it in front of you. You try to see his cards to make your move. This is how practical politics takes a course different from the business of clergy. The sooner we realize this, the better the democracy will be served in our country. Governance is not going to be assured by penalizing the already penalized. The beauty of democracy is that it filters down unworthy people, only if it is given a chance.
Sunday, 20 Dec. 09