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Sherlock Holmes and the minus-one mystery — by Samiullah Khan

They seemed to have hated Benazir before Zardari and their previous generation hated Bhutto. They spread scandals about him all the time and never miss an opportunity to blackguard him. They feel he wiggled out of the long list of cases against him with the NRO.

If Sherlock Holmes was a living character today, no doubt the mysterious power politics in this country would intrigue him greatly. Here is the actual scenario, courtesy a top secret report obtained by Rehman Malik.

Watson is sitting beside the fire reading a newspaper. Holmes is standing on one side playing a sonata on his violin.

“Listen to this Holmes. It seems there is another minus-one formula in Pakistan. They seem obsessed with the idea of being minus-one.”

The music stopped abruptly.

“Here is a mystery indeed Watson. They don’t realise that there is great mischief afoot.”

“Good heavens Holmes! What is all this about mischief?”

“Just see the sequence of events Watson. Immediately after the president was elected, some people, mainly those that did not participate in the election, started criticising the NRO. The fact is the NRO is not as bad as it is painted to be. The previous accountability was primarily political persecution and that is obvious, because out of about 9,000 cases, 8,000 pertain to one political party and the rest mainly to a few politicians of another political party and a host of bureaucrats and officers with associations to opposition parties. In fact, the NRO heralded a spirit of reconciliation that was welcomed at the time, enabled exiled leaders to return and more or less fair elections to be held. But thereafter accountability was projected as a noble crusade against corruption and the NRO as a heinous ordinance condoning corruption.”

“Why did they suddenly change their mind?”

“You see Watson, there is a group in that country who hate the president. They seemed to have hated Benazir before him and their previous generation hated Bhutto. They spread scandals about him all the time and never miss an opportunity to blackguard him. They feel he wiggled out of the long list of cases against him with the NRO.”

“But is he guilty Holmes?”

“My dear Watson, the cases are considered purely on the basis of quantity not quality. He is no more guilty than the other politicians. Only the tales about him are more exaggerated and the persecution he has suffered greater. He holds the record over there for any politician spending the longest time in jail.”

Holmes nodded at a portrait of Inspector Lestrange on the wall that he was using as a dartboard, “Their NAB is even worse than Scotland Yard, and that country has seen the Yard’s fabled worth by their investigation into Benazir’s assassination.”

“Those people should realise that without democracy the record of any leader will be dubious, one way or the other,” he continued, “No PRODA, EBDO, NAB or lists will check corruption. You think they should have learned this lesson in 62 years. These methods only foster political opportunism, fan hatred and rouse negative attitudes in the populace. Only democracy and fair elections will introduce its own system of checks and balances and accountability to the people and cure this ill. Then in a democratic environment you can conduct an unbiased accountability with an independent judiciary, without the media trying to influence the decisions. It is not the ethical aspect that is bothering me; it is this mystery about the second minus-one formula. You see, constitutionally the NRO did require to be ratified by the National Assembly by November 28th and the Chief Justice ruled accordingly, as foretold by the adversaries. Still it seemed that the president had nothing to worry about, because with his majority in the Assembly, he thought it would be smooth sailing to get it passed. But…”

“Ah, there is a but.”

“Yes. Nawaz Sharif came out strongly against the NRO. After that a completely one-sided campaign condemning this ordinance was launched by some sections of the media. With one voice, people involved in corporation scandals, bank loan frauds, and anchormen reputed to be enveloped in envelopes came out strongly against corruption. Then surprisingly, parties allied to the PPP announced that they would not support the bill. Thus the PPP dropped the idea. The president’s adversaries were thrilled. They thought they had won. One prominent Zardari-basher in the media used phraseology reminiscent of the anti-Bhutto movement: ‘the party’s over’. Then right on cue a French newspaper wrote about the Agosta submarine allegation. Imagine, after 15 years!”

“What was the reason a foreign ostensibly neutral journalist wrote this article Holmes?”

“Elementary my dear Watson; the pen is mightier than the sword, but nowadays cheap ballpoints are available everywhere!” Holmes stated. “This was the clinching evidence, coming as it did just at the right psychological moment. More than anything else this showed that it was indeed a conspiracy; that huge sums of money and someone were behind it!

“Contrary to expectations there were no cries of outrage from the public apart from some sections of the media and detractors, the desired response from the corridors of power was not forthcoming and the NRO beneficiaries showed their readiness to let the courts decide their cases. Thus the adversaries were stymied, because in the first place now they faced the very real threat that the courts, currently more independent, might in fact find the beneficiaries innocent and it became clear that the principal target had immunity. Then Zardari rallied; he showed his electoral strength was unabated, that there was no dissension in his party and his alliance was as strong as ever. Even his strongest political rival Nawaz Sharif condemned the ‘minus-one’ formula. There was no sign of the president leaving.

“The frustration of the adversaries was visible. They could not understand it; everything had gone as they thought it would but the road was leading in the opposite direction. They became more vehement and critical. They began harping more on corruption, they began insisting that the beneficiaries of the NRO should resign; some parts of the media stepped up its campaign and opposed the law regarding immunity.”

“Great Scot! But who is behind this media conspiracy?”

“Well, perhaps there is one clue. The most outlandish cases against the president are based in Spain: of him being involved in the Madrid bombing and more recently with Kofi Anan’s son in the ‘food-for-oil’ scandal. Then after the Mumbai attack it turned out that some of the foreign financiers of the terrorists were also from Spain. I suspect that there is one centre there. The huge sums of money involved in this conspiracy Watson, are probably coming in from the same source that backed Baitullah Mehsud. You see, there is an amorphous lobby in this country who do not like this action against the Taliban. They want to somehow stop this military action and their aim is to propagate an extremist ideal, discredit and discard elected politicians and democracy. They intend to discredit the politicians by having them hurl accusations against each other, which process has started, so the PML-N, PML-Q, PPP, MQM and ANP should beware! I have also heard that they are realising that the Taliban are proving counter-productive and they are now evolving other means to follow their agenda.”

“How do you know all this Sherlock?”

“Actually, I have a ministry.”

“What ministry is that?”

“The Holmes ministry of course Watson!”

The writer is an independent columnist