AZAM KHALIL "Let us be of good cheer, however, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never come." - Lowell The issue of the NRO may have completed one circle, but the circus connected with it is likely to continue for a foreseeable future. While many questions have arisen after the publication of the list that contained 8041 names, there are going to be few answers to the queries. President Musharraf promulgated the National Reconciliation Ordinance to start a process where the country could forget the scars that had emerged on the body politic of the state and the institution of democracy. The government of the day at that point in time, PML-Q, had rectified the ordinance through its Cabinet. This then paved the way for the return of both Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif had flown into exile after striking a 10 years' deal with General Musharraf and had also obtained a presidential pardon, that were considered to be a suitable arrangement by the entire leadership of PML-N. Benazir Bhutto agreed with the contents of the NRO because that, besides killing the cases instituted by Mian Nawaz Sharif against his main political rival, also ensured that the country could move back on the rails of democracy. Things took a dramatic change when the Supreme Court of Pakistan in an unprecedented decision brought the NRO forward and then issued directions that the government could have it indemnified through Parliament. However, since the politics of hypocrisy reign supreme in this country a lot of hue and cry was raised by politicians of all shades against the ratification of NRO by Parliament. Even PML-Q, which was the inventor of this ordinance, took a U-turn and severely criticised the presentation of the ordinance before Parliament. PML-N wanted to bargain the ratification of NRO with the repeal of the Seventeenth Constitutional Amendment that would allow the provision of third term prime ministership - a clause that presently hits Mian Nawaz Sharif and no one else. On the other hand, the MQM and members of FATA, who are considered to be pro-establishment outfits, also threatened to withdraw their support from the government in case any effort was made to get the NRO approved through Parliament. A serious question has now arisen that demands that the cases that were affected by the promulgation of the controversial NRO by President Musharraf not only covered cases of graft but also criminal cases like murder and dacoity, kidnapping for ransom and other heinous crimes. It is now to be seen as to whether accepting a bribe or indulging in serious financial irregularity is a bigger crime or whether murder and dacoity are more serious offences. The media hype that generated a lot of heat and amusement centred around President Asif Ali Zardari, where a section of the press made predictions that probably the issue will only die down in case the president resigned. Things are now in the open as to which forces are behind the campaign against President Asif Ali Zardari and who will benefit in case the presidency is weakened. Even if this issue is left aside, the talk of a national government which has no provision in the constitution could be heard and was being orchestrated by the same forces. It is, therefore, clear that the democratic forces were under attack from several sides, who wanted not only an early demise of democracy but also a backdoor arrangement that would allow them to come back into the corridors of power. These forces seemed to be desperate to dislodge a democratically elected government and at the same time weaken the government so that their task becomes easier and an arrangement is made that will allow at least some of them to come back into power. These forces were also advocating mid-term elections, although the government of Pakistan Peoples Party has a comfortable majority along with its coalition partners in the National Assembly and apparently there was no need for early elections in the country. The democratic forces may have their own agenda and agitate that all those who were responsible for the cooperative scam be brought to trial. They may also demand the reopening of the case where the army distributed money among politicians to form the IJI. Then what about the billions in loans written off, these people must be brought out to answer. The courts may take a heavy workload very soon. Coming back to the issue of NRO, it has now to be seen as to what would be the reaction of these forces in case the persons affected by NRO win their cases in the courts; or what would be the course of action if the courts do not take swift action to resolve this issue. It would be in the fitness of things in case a bipartisan committee is formed which then decides to withdraw all those cases from the purview of the courts that were instituted by various governments to victimise their political opponents. Only those cases should be left in the courts for adjudication, that are considered to be fairly constituted and as such require the intervention of the courts. As far as cases which are of heinous nature like murder, kidnapping or dacoity, they should be taken up by the relevant forums in the judiciary and they should be allowed to run their normal course as per requirements of the laws of this country. Even if the committee thinks that certain persons were falsely implicated in these cases, it should recommend the withdrawal of the names of those persons at least who were innocent, according to the findings of the committee. In case the circus of NRO continues for a long period of time it will have serious and adverse effects not only on the institution of democracy but could result in sharp polarisation in the country, which will not be in the interest of anyone. The country cannot afford to create another serious crisis when its hands were already full with issues like terrorism, economic restructuring, law and order and provision of basic facilities to its people. On its part, the government should also move forward to resolve the outstanding issues and fast track issues related to constitutional reforms so that it can pay the required attention on pressing issues that will alleviate the sufferings of the poor people of this country. Alternatively, in case foot dragging continues both by the government and the opposition and the issues are not resolved quickly, it may result in the deterioration in the present fragile democratic set up which may tilt in the favour of anti-democratic forces. This will then once again provide a conducive atmosphere for an intervention by the army which will push back not only the democratic forces but could result in the total ruination of the economic structure of Pakistan. Therefore, one hopes that all the concerned parties must realise that they have very little time on their hands because not only are they running out of time but also out of viable options that can steer the country out of its present problems. To achieve this, maturity and political sagacity are required which unfortunately are rare commodities in the country at the present point in time. The writer is a freelance columnist Email: