NRO Actually! (1st Instalment Of Truth) – by Marvi Sirmed

Selection by: Jarri Mirza

Article written by: Marvi Sirmed

Before I write something about my own personal take on NRO and its legitimacy, I would like to analyze what it actually is and what it is about. While we hear a lot about in the media (generally biased against one party or the other), it is all the more necessary to look into what this word NRO means, what document it is and what it means to the politics in Pakistan. Since the writing could take many pages, and I’m doing it in detail clause by clause, I think we should make it easier for the reader to grasp the information in easiest possible way.

I would apologize from my lawyer friends for not writing this piece in a way they are used to read legislations in. And it is mainly because this piece is intended to serve lay people instead of technical professionals in the field of law. I would try my best to refrain from the legal jargon as far as it is possible. Even then, if there’s something beyond the understanding of a common person (me included), I would request the reader to kindly bring it in the comments so that we could collectively try to understand it. For the purpose of making the continuity easy, I’m calling these pieces “Instalments of Truth”, and this is the first instalment!

I often hear and read comments by lay-persons, saying that NRO was “signed” by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Now, here’s where the folly lies! NRO is an abbreviated form of National Reconciliation Ordinance 2007, which is a piece of legislation. Legislation, as we all know, is a forte of the parliament in a parliamentary democracy like Pakistan. Pakistan, like many other nation satates, follows West Minster style of parliamentary system (UK, India, Australia, Canada to name few of the parliaments that follow West Minster). There is a corresponding system of government, commonly called Jeffersonian Parliaments, commonly called Presidential form of government (mainly USA). In a West Minster style parliamentary system like the one followed by Pakistan, President is the ceremonial head of the state, who has limited role in legislation.

According to the powers conferred upon the president, by the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, the President can issue an Ordinance as a piece of legislation when the Parliament is not sitting. Exercising the same power, General (now retired) Pervaiz Musharraf issued an ordinance called National Reconciliation Ordinance 2007, commonly known as NRO. Since it was an Ordinance, it was signed by the President of Pakistan, not by any political party sitting outside the government at that point in time. It is however, debatable, how this ordinance came into being. Without getting into the details of its origin for the time being, we’d go to what it says. The readers can refer to the original text of the NRO wherever s/he deems necessary, which I’ve already put on one of my blogs under the link:

The Ordinance has seven distinct Sections. Section I deals with the title of the Ordinance as is the usual practice of drafting a legislation.

Section II deals with an amendment in the Criminal Procedures Code (CrPC), which has been there since 1898. This Section of NRO amends section 494 of the CrPC, which empowered only the Prosecutor Generals to withdraw pending Criminal cases. After the amendment introduced by NRO, the Boards at Federal and Provincial Levels could be constituted to review the cases pending from 1st January 1986 to 12 October 1999. These Boards will see if the accused persons in these cases have been falsely involved in these cases on politically motivated reasons. In this case, the Review Boards thus created, can recommend withdrawal of cases to the respected governments.

These Review Boards would be of two types: Provincial and Federal. The Provincial Boards will be chaired by respectable retired Judges of High Courts and will comprise Advocate General / Prosecutor General and the Provincial Law Secretaries. The Federal Board will be chaired by a retired judge of the Supreme Court and will have Attorney General and Federal Law Secretary as its member, while both of these Boards would be appointed by federal and provincial governments as the case may be.

It is noteworthy here that NRO does not bind the federal and provincial governments to act upon the recommendations of the Review Boards. So, if any of the government doesn’t want to withdraw any of the cases, there’s no binding on them to comply with the Boards’ recommendations. In other words, the status of the Boards is recommendatory, not obligatory. It should also be noted here that this particular clause was included on the insistence of MQM, who was part of discussions made on such legislation. The dates mentioned in this section provide cover to the criminal cases made on MQM during the period from 1986 to 1999.