S Khalid Husain
The media and public attention and disdain has focused almost entirely on President Zardari after the Supreme Court verdict on the NRO. This has triggered a small debate on the fairness of zeroing in on one individual when there are hundreds, perhaps more, on the NRO list with criminal charges, including murder.
It is hard to think of the NRO without some kind of emotion swelling inside. Just the thought of what it might have been rattles the senses: if there was no corruption, or at least not on as monumental a scale as there was. Whatever is being written on the NRO and by whoever, a bit of lament, some traces of anguish, some anger, get woven into the contents. It is probably not possible to bury the inner feelings on the NRO entirely. One recommended way to reduce pain is to make light of it.
The public and the media focus on President Zardari has to be seen in the light of the totality of the NRO -- the ordinance, the Supreme Court verdict, the names on the list, and all else that went with it – and how all these coalesced to turn the NRO into a mega-production, a life-size epic, with a cast of thousands, literally. And Asif Ali Zardari, whose name was a legend for what the NRO is essentially all about, as the star. If in the public eye and in the media President Zardari now appears as the "sole" legatee of the NRO, it is because he symbolises the NRO, and is looked upon as Mr NRO himself.
After the president, it is his party which has borne the brunt of the fallout from the verdict on the NRO. PPP spokespersons have wondered why their party is virtually the sole receiver of the "fulsome" public and media attention after the ruling on the NRO. This is extraordinary wonderment.
It cannot be that they do not know that the reason for the "fulsome" public and media attention to their party is that the NRO was essentially PPP-specific, although spill-over benefits also accrued to some in the MQM and the ANP, that it was cut and tailored to fit mainly beneficiaries from the party; the other major party was calculatedly excluded from the NRO. Its value to the media in NRO matters is now only to extent of the utterances of its spokespersons and leaders on the discomfiture of those presently caught in the web.
The NRO, unfortunately for those who were to be its prime beneficiaries, has been stood on its head, and the recipients of its absolution turned into objects of national scorn.
The media and the public attention, unsurprisingly, is where the NRO verdict has caused the most flutter, not unlike a cat among pigeons – the PPP. Coalition partners MQM and ANP have taken more than a just a little slack, and this must be welcome relief.
The names with major roles in the NRO epic read like the Who's Who of the post-Benazir PPP. The rest of the nearly 8,000-strong cast is made up of extras who were picked for roles in the NRO -- by the NAB, or the FIA or whoever, much as Central Casting in Hollywood studios would pick extras for roles in Hollywood epics. Many of the extras would be big news in their own right if they had appeared in a standard production, instead of an epic like the NRO.
There is only one way to turn the public and media outcry to something less perturbing. All those affected by the outcry, and if they believe in their blamelessness, should stand down from whatever positions they are occupying and appear in courts to show what they claim are mere allegations or accusations against them to be just that, allegations.
Any other mode of defence, whether through waffling on TV talk shows or in specially written pieces in the print media, scaremongering and playing of provincial cards, ranting on conspiracy theories, mysterious movement of boxes through diplomatic channels from lawyers' offices in Switzerland, and all the rest of such out-of-court tactics, is just adding fuel to the outcry that could turn it into an eruption.
For almost the first time in its history, Pakistan has a free and, on the whole, credible media. It has a judiciary, also for the first time, which the people believe and recognise to be independent and, therefore, look upon it with trust. The army is on the way to regaining its somewhat spoiled image.
If similar credibility and trust with the people can also be achieved by the two weakest links in the national chain, the parliamentarians and the executive, which can be only through actions, not through empty, unending rhetoric, Pakistan would be home and dry.