Officials in the home and law departments are desperately searching for the records of the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) cases that have gone missing.
Last week, the federal government asked the Sindh home and law departments for an update on the NRO cases, according to a senior official in the home ministry. “The cases were withdrawn earlier so it is not our responsibility to maintain the records,” he said, adding that they are still trying to trace the missing data and will send updates to Islamabad soon.
Around 3,576 cases, registered between 1986 and 1999, were withdrawn in 2007 under the NRO, passed during the government of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. By claiming these cases were ‘politically motivated’, the NRO allowed pardon to nearly 8,000 people on various charges of corruption, murders and kidnappings, several of whom were politicians, political activists and bureaucrats.
Later in December 2009, the Supreme Court — headed by the then chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry — declared the NRO null and void, and in conflict with the Constitution. The apex court had ordered the lower judiciary to re-open the cases against the 8,000 people who benefited from this law. There have, however, been delays in the implementation of these orders as officials have failed to produce the case files and claimed that they have ‘gone missing’.
“The case was in the apex court and the then advocate general had defended it,” said the newly appointed Sindh home secretary, Mukhtiar Soomro. “It is not our responsibility to maintain the records. The prosecutor or the advocate general can give updates on this.”
For his part, advocate general Fatah Malik refused to comment on the issue. “I don’t have any updates on NRO cases, which is an outdated issue now,” he said. When asked about the case files that have gone missing, Malik said he cannot comment on it.
The home department approached the jail authorities for the missing records but officials privy to the development disclosed that jail officials did not have the records either. Official sources said the prosecution has some details but they are all manual records. “We will need some time to compile the data case by case,” said an official.
There were reports that the records pertaining to the criminals released on parole in the aftermath of NRO have also gone missing. But the home secretary said the records are available with them and they can provide it if someone asks for it.
According to officials in the Sindh government, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) benefitted most from this ordinance as party chief Altaf Hussain and leaders, Farooq Sattar and Shoaib Bukhari, were pardoned in several cases. However, several cases against Pakistan Peoples Party leaders, including Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto and Agha Siraj Durrani, were also ‘reconciled’ as a result of NRO.
“Some notorious criminals facing serious charges were also acquitted as a result of NRO,” said an official. MQM leader Altaf Hussain has, on a number of occasions, said that his party leaders are ready to face the charges if NRO cases are re-opened.
The re-opening of NRO cases is, however, pending, admitted a law officer who works in the Supreme Court. “After the judgement, the then chief justice sought progress but the officials in the home and other departments, including the Sindh advocate general sought more time,” he said, requesting anonymity.
“These officials always claimed they wanted to gather more material, including summaries and applications submitted by the beneficiaries of this ordinance, but this never happened,” he said, adding that no one has pursued this case since the retirement of former CJP Iftikhar Chaudhary.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2015.