Irrelevance of TRC in Pakistan

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NEWS & VIEWS

Mohammad Jamil

TRUTH and Reconciliation or Truth Commission, National Commission of Inquiry or commissions under similar denominations were formed in dozens of countries in the past; Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Rawand, Ecuador, Fiji and El Salvador and of course South Africa are among them. Recently, former PM Nawaz Sharif asked for establishing a national inquiry commission to look into his Mumbai statement and role of the establishment during the last 7 decades to decide who is guilty.
The other day, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also took plea for consensus among political parties for establishing truth and reconciliation commission. On the last day of the National Assembly proceedings, Leader of the Opposition also talked about the truth commission. However, if such a commission is formed, role of Nawaz Sharif during Zia era would also come under scrutiny. And he will have to answer about being part of praetorians engineering works and his role during late 1980s to 1990s. It is worth noting the background and circumstances that prevailed in South Africa and Pakistan differ widely, as South Africa was governed by white minority. the question is whether our rulers would admit before the truth and reconciliation commission about their conspiracies in destabilizing elected governments, aberrations and flawed policies in the past. Certainly, they won’t, as their skirt is not clean. Look at the history of Nelson Mandela, who was elected as President of South Africa in 1994, and framed the policy of national reconciliation with whites that had perpetrated atrocities on the local population. He had spent 27 years in prison, much of it on Robben Island. However, after formation of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC) both sides had admitted their flawed approach and forgiven and forgotten the excesses of the past.
The South African TRC was set up by the Unity Government to help deal with what happened under apartheid. It was based on the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No 34 of 1995, and implemented its mandate through 3 committees: the Amnesty Committee, Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee and Human Rights Violations Committee. The Register of Reconciliation gave members of the public a chance to express their regret at failing to prevent human rights violations and to demonstrate their commitment to reconciliation. The TRC was a court-like body assembled in South Africa after the end of Apartheid. Anybody who felt they had been a victim of violence could come forward and be heard at the TRC. Following his release from prison on 11 February 1990 after 27 years incarceration, Mandela’s adopted a policy of reconciliation and negotiation which helped lead the transition to multi-racial democracy in South Africa.
In Pakistan, the idea of Truth and Reconciliation Commission is being tossed around basically to demonize military by placing focus on Martial Laws of the past. None of the politicians is likely to accept his mistakes and for having jumped to the bandwagon after the coup. In fact, they had been asking army chiefs to help get rid of the elected government. Anyhow, politicians do not wish that military should have any role in the affairs of the state. In the US, Britain and even in India – the largest democracy in the world – political leaderships take decisions with regard to security and foreign policy on the basis of the input by intelligence agencies and advice of military leadership. Ideally, in an open society, military enjoys the professional autonomy while submitting itself to the political authority. In some developing countries where executive showed disregard for the military, they became vulnerable to military takeover. Conversely, in cases where the civilians were firmly in charge but respected institution of military like the US and for that matter even Russia, conflict was minimized. But in Pakistan, some politicians considered army personnel as their servants, rather chowkidars. To ensure that democracy takes firm roots, it is imperative that all institutions should perform within the parameters defined in the Constitution. The fact remains that conflict between the political parties, intolerance and deep-rooted hatred among politicians in the past provided opportunity to the praetorians to intervene. In 1977, it was conglomeration of political parties that had started agitation against Bhutto government on the plea that it had rigged elections. Reportedly, a leader of the Pakistan National Alliance had written a letter to army chief to topple Bhutto government.
Before October 1958 Martial Law also, political parties were at loggerheads; a deputy speaker in the former East Pakistan Assembly was seriously injured in a free for all on the floor of the house and later succumbed to his injuries. Before General Pervez Musharraf’s military dispensation, the Grand Democratic Alliance comprising more than a dozen political parties was united on one-point i.e. to get rid of Nawaz government. Almost all political and religious parties and their leaders have at one time or another aided and abetted military dictators and joined their bandwagons. Those leaders who were propped up by the military to become heads of the state often criticized military more than others. Anyhow, no political party could boast about its democratic credentials or impeccable character of its leaders. Even judiciary had provided legitimacy to the military dictators and granted them permission to amend the constitution, which right it itself did not have.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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