In a previous post I had alluded to a seemingly spontaneous process through which the Pakistani media jumped from the issue of the Kerry-Lugar bill (KLB) to the issue of the National Reconciliation Ordinance. As the NRO issue has reached its climax, with the Supreme Court slamming the legislative ordinance as illegal, it seems new evidence has come to light which shows that the transition from the KLB battlefield to the NRO battlefield was not so random after all. An opinion piece by Ayesha Siddiqa also points to a complex government-military nexus, which seems to have been destabilised in recent times, and it appears that the battle over the controversial US legislation was in fact the precursor for the government's humiliation via the upstaging of the NRO.

The reason why the KLB was such a controversial piece of US legislation was because it aimed to separate civilian aid from military aid through conditionalities on the latter (curiously, this is also the reason why the media took such a strong stance against the legislation). Now, the military regime, since the time of President Pervez Musharraf, has railed vehemently against any talk of conditionality. It seems President Asif Zardari's civilian government doesn't care that much about military conditionalities as long as civilian aid flows through unhampered.

This was probably what ticked off the military establishment, prompting it to initially discredit the government publicly through a well-planned media offensive, and later pursuing the more complicated strategy of political back-channeling through opposition parties to destabilise and ultimately rout the government. The question that emerges, and one I've been grappling with for the past couple of weeks, is: how was the military General Head Quarters able to pull out such a seamless process, involving the recently liberated judiciary, out of a hat?

Well, it’s no secret that the NRO was controversial since day one, and represented the rug under the feet of the present government. Now, as always, it was the political forces, and the powers that be, that would decide if and when this rug is pulled out. Timing and a collusion of interests becomes key here – and this time everything seemed to click.

Also, let’s not forget a very crucial role played by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in providing crucial evidence on the NRO and the corrupt officials involved. If we look back a few years to the birth of the NAB, it seems to be a Musharraf-era organisation, comprised largely of ex-military personnel, designed to bring corruption to a halt (or rather to monitor, control, and co-opt an existing corrupt system). Towards the end of Musharraf's ill-fated regime, two very important developments took place. First, the NRO was passed as a bill as part of emergency legislation by a panel of PCO judges, and second, NAB was directed towards the graveyard of defunct institutions. Now, all of a sudden, we see the NRO heading for the graveyard as NAB gets a new lease on life.

Another thing we should remember while trying to understand the process is what the NRO was called before it became the NRO. If we read headlines in the non-Pakistani press, the working name of the agreement behind the legislation was 'a Bhutto-Musharraf deal, backed by the US and the UK.' As Benazir suffered the fate that she did, Zardari became the principle beneficiary of the legislation. So zooming out on the timeline of the whole issue of the NRO from its inception to its demise, we get the following developments. Musharraf (and the military establishment) cut a deal allowing certain immunities in exchange for certain powers and understandings. Subsequently, these unwritten understandings (probably linked to US aid) were violated, causing the very annoyed military to team up with the opposition, and other mobilised social groups to pull out support for the NRO, dealing a severe blow to President Zardari and his government, swinging the status-quo back in favour of the military.

Though, to the casual observer, and ultimate optimist, the process seems like a prime example of what a strengthened judiciary can do to empower the democratic process, such an observation fails to capture the tactics and power dynamics involved in the backdrop. It is needless to say that the battle is far from over, a severe power-tussle is expected to follow, marked by the tone of the prime minister's defence of the president and others discredited through the Supreme Court judgment. Chances are, the tussle will probably go on for a while without any reconciliation in sight.

Lahore-based Asif Akhtar is interested in critical social discourse as well as the expressive facets of reactive art and is one of the schizophrenic narrators of a graphic novel. He blogs at and tweets at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



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