Truth commission

Updated May 26, 2018

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COMMISSIONS have been proposed and used in the past with a view to sidelining issues of national importance that may have awkward implications for the state or powerful individuals.

Yet, the idea remains a sound one; it is the practice that needs to be improved. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s suggestion that a truth commission be established to probe major national controversies since 1947 to uncover facts that the public may not be aware of is an interesting idea that deserves some consideration.

Others have made similar suggestions and the demand for a truth and reconciliation commission has been periodically raised in the country.

If a commission does come to fruition, much will depend on political as well as the state’s will to create and support an independent and autonomous body with the power to both demand compliance and make recommendations that would have to be considered, for example, by parliament.

The design of the commission itself would have to take into account the possibility of powerful elements inside and outside the state seeking to prevent embarrassing details from becoming public and the need for some serious repair to the democratic project in the country.

If done right, with the consensus support of mainstream political parties and state institutions, the commission could set a much-needed precedent of truth and accountability where a need for it is identified.

A truth commission is not beyond the realm of possibility. The coming together of political forces in parliament for the National Assembly to approve the 25th Amendment bill on Thursday has underlined the possibility of political and state consensus even when there appear to be bitter political divisions ahead of what may be a bruising general election.

Moreover, the historical role of the commission proposed by Mr Abbasi can help ensure that it is not perceived as targeting specific sets of individuals or institutions.

Indeed, the Asghar Khan case and the PML-N’s role in taking the ‘Memogate’ issue to the superior judiciary suggests that the PML-N, too, will have to open itself up to deep scrutiny.

Surely, the prime minister is not unaware of the possibility and the PML-N leadership should welcome a fair inquiry into much that ails the Pakistani state and national politics.

As noted in these columns and elsewhere in the media, Nawaz Sharif’s refusal to renounce the Zia era, which is when the Sharif political dynasty and business empire really took off, is a troubling manifestation of an age-old problem: politicians are all too willing to point fingers at others, but rarely acknowledge their own mistakes.

Prime Minister Abbasi himself recently tied himself in knots alternately trying to disavow and explain comments made by his political boss Nawaz Sharif in a recent interview to this newspaper. A truth commission should look at both the past and the present.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2018