When former Prime Minister Imran Khan talked about pressure on him to provide National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)-like relief to the then opposition leaders, everybody thought he was talking nonsense to divert the public attention from high inflation and alleged bad governance of his government. When his government was removed through a no-confidence motion, people realized that an NRO II had already been granted to all politicians, who were facing serious corruption and money-laundering cases against them.
The new arrangement is way smarter than the previous NRO, under which relief was provided to politicians from corruption cases by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007. Former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were major beneficiaries of it. It was clear that international forces had pressurized President Pervez Musharraf to provide relief to them when they wanted a new set-up in Pakistan for their Afghan war. Later, President Pervez Musharraf accepted that it was his major mistake and apologised to the nation for providing relief to “corrupt” politicians.
Under the new NRO, all politicians, who were facing serious corruption and money-laundering cases, were brought to power by international forces, so that they could scrap the cases against themselves. It was a clever move as everything remained hidden from the common people. It was an announced NRO, so that no beneficiary or the hands who provided it were identified. It was perhaps because the first NRO had been declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the new NRO was kept secret for the same fear. On October 5, 2007, President Pervez Musharraf’s NRO had granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats, who were accused of corruption, money-laundering, murder and terrorism between January 1, 1986 and October 12, 1999. The NRO was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on December 16, 2009, but not before it had benefited 8,041 people, including 34 politicians and three ambassadors. Between 2008 and 2013, when the Asif Zardari-led PPP was in power, the NAB was ordered to close down corruption inquiries against 60 leaders of the ruling coalition.
However, the NRO II is different in many ways. If looked closely, it appears that work on it had started soon after Imran Khan came to power in 2018. Under a systematic way, all corruption and money-laundering cases against all top politicians slowed down. They were also granted bail in many cases. Imran Khan, who had no control over the NAB or other law-enforcement agencies, unlike the tenures of the PPP and the PML-N, watched it happen helplessly. In this way, his plan and slogan of accountability was tainted and demolished.
People in Pakistan know that the no-confidence motion against former Prime Minister Imran Khan could not have succeeded without the help of international forces. No government in Pakistan has ever been removed through a no-confidence motion and the success of the motion against Imran Khan itself proves that it had been managed by foreign powers. The former Prime Minister could easily have managed the creation of forward blocs in the opposition to save his governments in the Centre and Punjab, if the international establishment had not been supporting the then opposition. Over 30 PML-N legislators also met him but, according to him, they were ordered to remain in their party to ensure his ouster. However, the international powers miscalculated his popularity. He became more popular after the common people saw people who were facing corruption and money-laundering cases had been imposed on them. Now, Imran Khan is using the people’s power to reverse the tide.
National institutions are also feeling the heat of his huge public rallies and upcoming long march. As he feared that leaders of the coalition government have started removing officials investigating and pursuing their cases in courts, the Supreme Court has restrained executive authorities from transferring, posting and removing officials involved in the investigation or prosecution of high-profile corruption cases against top government functionaries, especially Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz. The court took suo motu notice of alleged government interference in the affairs of prosecution as well as investigation branches in high-profile cases and a five-judge larger bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, ordered that no prosecution case would be withdrawn until the next date of hearing. The court also issued notices to the interior secretary, director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), chairman and regional directors of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), prosecutors general and advocates general and heads of prosecution branches of the FIA and the NAB to file their statements in writing. The order also asked the relevant authorities to submit the names of officers and their successors in the investigating and prosecution branches of the FIA and the NAB in high-profile cases, who had been transferred, posted or removed from their positions in the last six weeks. The court sought the names of persons who had been removed from the exit control list (ECL) during the last six weeks.
The court order has upset the government and its allies. They claim the court is interfering in its affairs. However, despite the court notice, it will not be much difficult for politicians in the government to get relief in the cases. It is a fact that employees of the NAB, FIA, police or any other department cannot resist pressure from the government. The court cannot force them to work on merit. It would have been possible only if our institutions had been independent and free of political interference. The government can influence them easily to provide relief to itself. However, Imran Khan can upset their applecart.