ISLAMABAD, Nov 9 Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the PML-Q chief, disclosed in an interview on Monday that the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was his brainchild.
The ordinance was promulgated in Oct 2007 by the government of then president President Pervez Musharraf.
“Yes, I proposed its name because I wanted it to be equally and universally applicable. We did not want only certain individuals to benefit. The idea behind the ordinance was national reconciliation and to let the democratic system function,” Chaudhry Shujaat said in the interview with Dawn.
This is the first time since the NRO was promulgated that the PML-Q leader has acknowledged that the idea and the name had been floated by him.
But the entire deal or arrangement was not struck overnight, as Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain makes out.
The NRO sought to withdraw cases of corruption against the late Ms Benazir Bhutto, her husband Asif Ali Zardari and several close aides like Rehman Malik.
The ordinance was an outcome of long and hectic deliberations between the top leadership of PML-Q, the former ruling party, and the PPP-Parliamentarians.
Held at safe houses of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Islamabad, the meetings were often joined by the then chief of the agency.
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and the party's secretary general, Mushahid Hussain Syed, represented Pervez Musharraf, while Ms Bhutto was represented by PPP-Parliamentarians President Makhdoom Amin Fahim and secretary general Raja Pervez Ashraf.
The legal brains behind the ordinance were Farooq Naek, from the People's Party, and Zahid Hamid, from PML-Q.
Sources say it was Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who proposed the name “National Reconciliation Ordinance” for the draft law prepared by the legal experts from both sides.
Secret meetings on the NRO, between PML-Q and PPP, were later joined in by Dr Safdar Abbasi, another close aide of Ms Bhutto and husband of firebrand Naheed Khan. He also offered an insider's view of what was going through Ms Bhutto's mind while indirectly dealing with the general.
“Without going into the nitty-gritty of the matter, I would say that Mohtarma (Benazir Bhutto) wanted free and fair elections in the country. And for this she wanted a free hand and zero intervention by intelligence agencies. This was the core reason for signing the NRO,” Dr Safdar said.
But politicians were not the only ones who played a role in the framing of the controversial law. At least one Western diplomat did his bit in creating the right atmosphere for the return of the exiled politicians and a sense of rapprochement.
A former aide of General Musharraf, who had a hand in the wheeling and deal, says the so-called process of reconciliation was initiated by the former British high commissioner to Islamabad, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, and the general's right-hand man, Tariq Aziz.
“Both of them tried to convince Gen Musharraf to join hands with Benazir Bhutto and part ways with the Chaudhrys of Gujrat,” he claimed. According to him, Tariq Aziz's support to Ms Bhutto was the reason why Tariq Aziz and Chaudhrys of Gujrat fell out.
While accepting that their leaders too were the main beneficiaries of the NRO, the People's Party leadership still believes the ordinance ensured the return of leaders like Nawaz Sharif prior to the last general election.
“The purpose of the bill was not only to ensure free and fair elections, but to make sure the return of all popular leaders, including Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif,” claims Parliamentary Affairs Minister Babar Awan.
In his opinion, Benazir Bhutto's prime purpose of negotiating the NRO with Gen Pervez Musharraf (retd) was election-specific. “The corruption cases were of secondary consideration to her since they had not been proven in any court of law for years.”
The parliamentary affairs minister says the government has already withdrawn the NRO from the Parliament and there was no need to move any application to the National Assembly Speaker to get it done.
Babar Awan's remarks about return of Nawaz Sharif under the NRO incur sharp criticism from the PML-N leadership. “There is not an iota of truth that Nawaz Sharif's return became possible only after the signing of the NRO,” PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal asserts. “His return was the result of a historic Supreme Court judgment. When General Musharraf deported him in 2007, there was uproar by the public and resentment by the Saudi government,” he observes.