NRO – an eyewitness account

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By Senator Rehman Malik
There are lot of controversies created in the media on an imaginary NRO supposedly signed between Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and General Pervez Musharraf for allegedly aiming at dropping all the case against PPP leadership. I would like to categorically deny this perception by challenging everyone who has been claiming that an NRO was signed between Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and General Pervez Musharraf. I expect someone either to accept my challenge or stop criticising against PPP leadership.

I feel that it is my national duty to put the facts straight related to series of meetings with General Pervez Musharraf and his team where I was leading on behalf of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in London and Dubai with the help of some important aides of General Pervez Musharraf.

The first conversation took place between Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and General Ehtisham Zamir on our way back to London from Bradford in which it was offered by General Pervez Musharraf to release Asif Ali Zardari from jail to start the dialogue. She, however, declined that offer and informed Gen. Zamir in my presence that she would like to first release the PPP workers and other party leaders including Jahangir Badar, Yousaf Raza Gillani and others as confidence building measures to start any dialogue with him, as they are kept in jail due to political vendetta. This was the first NRO, which was declined by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and regretted the offer of release of Senator Asif Ali Zardari.

There was a gap in the dialogue for some time and some of the government operators were talking to Yousaf Raza Gillani who declined to leave the Pakistan People’s Party to join Musharraf. Similar offers were given to Makhdoom Amin Faheem who also declined it with thanks.

The second round of the dialogue started in mid-2006, when a message was received from General Pervez Musharraf for a dialogue on transition of democracy. I had couple of meetings with the close aides of General Pervez Musharraf from army and his Principle Secretary level in Dubai on various dates. Both Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Mr. Asif Ali Zardari were kept informed about the developments.

A couple of meetings between me and close aides of General Pervez Musharraf resulted into a meeting between Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Abu Dhabi in early 2007 in a palace in the presence of some royal members and DG ISI Gen. Kiyani. This meeting was coordinated and facilitated by certain dignitaries of UAE.

Two Generals, myself, General Musharraf and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto sat for the cup of tea and before saying goodbye, a few minutes before departure, General Musharraf asked Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto not to come Pakistan before 31st December 2007 and insisted to come after the General Elections and then we will celebrate the new year week together. She responded in negative and turned down the offer of General Pervez Musharraf by saying that “General Sahib it is not you who will decide my return date; it is my prerogative to decide as to when I would return and I have decided to return back on the 18th October, 2007”.

In the meantime, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto went to the ladies room and General Musharraf addressed me saying that she listens you as a brother so please convince her not to come to Pakistan before general elections and I told General Musharraf that once she has decided her return date then it is not possible to change her decision, so please follow what she has told him. I told him that those who are supporting you and your uniform, one day you will look behind and there will be no one for you. But General Musharraf did not agree with me by stating that there would be lot of people who would stay behind him. The time is testimony that how he left.

It was the second offer by Gen. Musharraf to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, which was declined by her in the said meeting. The third attempt was made by General Musharraf when a senior General called me to come to Dubai from London, as he wanted to meet Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto with a special message of Gen. Musharraf. I accordingly flew from London to Dubai. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto indicated a time for meeting and I along with the said General drove to her residence and on the way I came to know that he has offer for her from Gen. Musharraf for the closure of all cases in return of deferring the return of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan before elections. The said meeting took place and resulted in a big no from her besides refusing the offer of closure of the cases. This was the third offer of NRO, which Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had turned down.

Lately, Gen. Pervez Musharraf sent two of his trusted Generals along with Iqbal Z Khan who met Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto with yet another offer where Ms Naheed Khan and Mr. Safder Abbasi were also present. It was offered to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to accept the Chairmanship of Senate however Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto declined this 5th offer of NRO by Gen. Musharraf via his three trusted friends.

For the fourth time I received a call from President’s office informing that Ch. Shujaat Hussain along with Ch. Pervez Elahi and Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed have been tasked by General Musharraf to meet Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto with yet another offer and to convince her to defer his return to Pakistan before elections. I was flying from Dubai to London and I had taken my boarding card to fly but on the instructions of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto I returned the boarding card and returned to her residence where we discussed the pros & cons of the meeting with three members of opponent party on behalf of Gen. Musharraf and finally Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto decided not to meet the visiting politicians. Hence I informed the Principle Secretary to Gen. Musharraf and in return I was informed that a special plane has been arranged for three of them to fly to Dubai and they were present at the airport. I however regretted that she has refused to meet them. It was the fourth time that the offer of an NRO was scrapped by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

At another later date a telephonic conversation took place between Gen. Musharraf and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto wherein she demanded of Gen. Pervez Musharraf to hold elections on time, to take off his uniform, to appoint a new Army Chief and successful transition of power to the next elected government. Gen. Musharraf however stated that Gen. Hamid would get in touch for some further proposals.

Few days later Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari were present in a hotel in London and I was also there when I received a message from Gen. Hamid informing me that he is faxing a document like an agreement between Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Gen. Musharraf to take the mutual understanding forward. I went to the reception, collected the fax received from Gen. Hamid, presented it to her and as a result of discussion she decided to decline the said offer which was obviously not acceptable to her not to travel back to Pakistan before elections in return of the closure of cases against her. I accordingly informed Gen. Hamid and it was 6th time offer of the NRO, which was frustrated by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

There was no written or verbal agreement between Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Gen. Pervez Musharraf, which could have been termed as NRO at later stage. However, there were persistent demands from Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to Gen. Pervez Musharraf, as mentioned above. The same demands were followed later on when she arrived and it was me who conveyed to Gen. Musharraf and the guarantors of the dialogue that Gen. Musharraf had left with no choice except to take off his uniform. The persistent demands of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto for the sake of restoration of democracy in the country had dismayed Gen. Musharraf. Besides, there were lot of under current issues within the government institutions but can be stated at some appropriate time.

In fact, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had declined the offer of Gen. Musharraf for 6th time, but Gen. Musharraf wanted to oblige MQM for the closure of the cases by using the shoulders of the PPP. Mr. M. Anwar spoke to me about this offer of NRO and I told him that we were out of it and never been in search of any NRO. What I learnt later was that the Law Minister Mr. Hamid drafted the NRO which in fact Ch. Shujaat and two other political leaders wanted to bring to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto for her consent and having been declined several time Gen. Musharraf issued an NRO Ordinance proposed by the Ministry of Law duly approved by the Cabinet headed by Shaukat Aziz and it was implemented.

It may be kept in mind that none of the leadership of Pakistan People’s Party including Asif Ali Zardari were part of the Government and/or the Cabinet to have either influenced the government to issue National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Hence PPP Leadership cannot be blamed for such NRO, which was, in fact, initiated by Gen. Musharraf on behalf of other party and not PPP.

If the investigation take place, the number of beneficiaries, cases closed, accused released from the jail will clear as to who were the actual beneficiary of NRO. It would be without any exaggeration to say that MQM had been the major beneficiary of the NRO of which thousands of cases were closed as a result of NRO and were never reopened after having NRO scrapped by the Supreme Court.

Once again I with full responsibility categorically stated that there was no NRO between PPP and Gen. Musharraf. The big achievements, which Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto achieved, were the dosing off the uniform by Gen. Musharraf, conducting of elections on time, appointment of new Army Chief and smooth transition of power. These were the achievement of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and she got those achieved without surrendering herself and without signing NRO.

Whatever I have written above, every word can be corroborated with evidence hence I appeal to all those who are blaming PPP for signing the NRO to not to distort historical facts out of personal disliking of the party.

(The writer is Chairman of think tank “global eye” & former Interior Minister of Pakistan.

rmalik1212@gmail .com @GlobalEye_GSA)