NRO decision

November 27, 2011

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TWO years later, we are where we were on Dec 16, 2009 — the day a Supreme Court ruling made Gen Pervez Musharraf's National Reconciliation Order legally irrelevant. Then, the NRO was deemed to have never existed and the SC view has remained unchanged. The government's petition for a review of the NRO has been thrown out at the end of proceedings that reignited fears of more tension between the executive and the judiciary in the country. The onus is now on the government to implement the original SC decision that sought to (re)open corruption cases against many politicians, a large number of whom, including President Asif Zardari, are part of the current set-up in Islamabad. The legal regime casts Adm Fasih Bukhari (retd), the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, in an even more important role — in theory at least since the government does not appear to be ready to (re)open cases against the 'NRO beneficiaries'. For more evidence of how tangled up matters actually are, Adm Bukhari is faced with a legal case of his own: Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the opposition leader in parliament, has challenged the appointment of Adm Bukhari.

During the hearing of the review petition, the court pulled up the state's counsel, Mr Babar Awan, over his resort to political speech. The court would have none of his politics, but the fallout of the SC's rejection of the review appeal is nothing if not political. The decision is going to add greatly to the problems of President Zardari who appears to be heavily dependent on technical aspects to justify his position at this moment. An opposition campaign aimed at painting him as a corrupt and inefficient ruler is strong amid calls for change. Often, the debate revolves not around whether it would be fair to cut Mr Zardari's term short but on the technicalities which act as a shield for the president.

The government says the cases that have been mentioned in the NRO were politically motivated and amount to victimisation. This argument failing to find any favour with the judges, then falls on the second line of defence according to which the president's office enjoys immunity. It is for the legal minds to decide the immunity question. Outside the courts the ultimate public jury eagerly gobbles up anything that feeds its anger against corruption which is all the more visible in times when rulers are unable to provide relief to the people. The factor should be the biggest cause of concern for Mr Zardari and his set-up.