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LAHORE: If the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), probing into the offshore business interests of sitting Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif and his family members on orders of country’s apex court, submits its final inquiry report within the stipulated 60 days (ends today, Monday), it will perhaps be one of the very few fact-finding commissions formed around the world that have till date accomplished the tasks entrusted to them in such a short period, writes Sabir Shah.

And if no fingers are pointed at its report, chances of which are slim, this probe committee would be unique in many ways. Fact-finding reports that are regarded as the best, not only take a small time to unveil or unearth facts, but they also have to come out with uncontroversial deductions, irrefutable evidences and unchallengeable truth, without leaving any grey areas or lacunae for stake holders to raise objections!

But we still don’t know as to what would be the reaction of the PML-N towards the findings of the JIT, and in case this investigating body’s report favours the sitting Pakistani premier, none is sure as to how Messrs Imran Khan, Asif Zardari, Sheikh Rasheed and Sirajul Haq etc would react to it, meaning thereby that even if this fact-finding committee submits its report with the time period given to it, controversies would still haunt it.

In either case, there seemingly is a strong possibility that any one of two parties might challenge, refute or rebuff the contents of the JIT report.

Normally, countries forms truth commissions to investigate and report on past situations involving large-scale and often systematic atrocities, financial crises or other man-orchestrated or natural tragedies.

The mandates of these bodies vary, but they are generally empowered to collect statements from a broad array of stakeholders including victims, witnesses, accusers, the accused, and perpetrators etc.

They conduct public hearings; identify patterns and practices of a certain crime or abuse; uncover the root causes of the incidents under consideration and issue a public report, with recommendations for future action to help prevent recurrence of untoward incidents.

The US State Department writes on its website: “More than 30 countries across the globe have created truth commissions. While truth commissions share some common features, each is unique, reflecting important contextual differences.”

However, the number of nations with truth commissions is certainly much higher than the one given by the US State Department, research conducted by the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network” reveals.

Study shows that the Pakistani Supreme Court-formed JIT is seemingly an exception among 1000 plus truth commissions formed around the planet, because it has investigated the alleged crime of one single family and has comprised of members from certain institutions that the accused Sharifs deem to be their adversaries for long!

Since the 1932 Pecora Investigation that was formed in the United States to ascertain the causes of the 1929 Wall Street crash, very few probe bodies around the planet have actually succeeded in achieving the primary objective of unveiling irrefutable facts within a reasonable time frame.

This committee had uncovered a wide range of abusive practices on the part of banks and their affiliates. These included a variety of conflict of interest, such as the underwriting of unsound securities in order to pay off bad bank loans etc. The hearings that continued till 1934 had galvanized broad public support for new banking and securities laws in the United States.

Similarly, the November 2002 National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission, took less than two years to give its final report full on the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, but had to confront heavy criticism.

The commission was created by Congressional legislation, with bill signed into law by President Bush George Junior.

It had summoned innumerable government officials including President Bush Junior, former president Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney etc to testify before its members.

The report said both Bush and Clinton were not “well served” by the FBI and the CIA. It interviewed over 1,200 people in 10 countries and reviewed over 2.5 million pages of documents, including some closely guarded classified national security documents, but this commission was also criticised for alleged conflicts of interest on the part of commissioners and staff.

Critics argued that 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow had co-authored a book (“Germany unified and Europe transformed: A study in statecraft”) with Condoleezza Rice in 1995!

So, there were proven ties between the White House and men the helm of the 9/11 Commission–and hence the criticism.

Even the Archbishop Desmond Tutu-led South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was formed after 43 years of Apartheid era, had attracted lots of criticism.

Apartheid was a government-imposed system of discrimination and separation based on skin colour.

According to “CNN,” after more than two years of often-wrenching testimony about crimes and human rights abuses committed during the Apartheid era, this commission held its final public hearing on July 31, 1998.

A 1998 study by South Africa’s Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, which surveyed several hundred victims of human rights abuse during the Apartheid era, found that most felt that the commission had failed to achieve reconciliation between the black and white communities.

Most critics believed that justice was a prerequisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it, and that the commission had been weighted in favour of the perpetrators of abuse.

While former white South African President de Klerk appeared before the commission and tendered his apology for the suffering caused by apartheid, many black South Africans were angered at amnesty being granted for human rights abuses committed by his government!

Another former white President, PW Botha, had dismissed the commission as a circus. He was later tried for refusing to appear.

The hearings started in 1996 with a mandate to bear witness to, record, and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as reparation and rehabilitation.

Between 1996 and 2003, a total of 5,392 amnesty applications were refused, granting only 849 out of the 7,112. The hearings were initially set to be heard in-camera, but the intervention of 23 non-governmental organizations eventually succeeded in gaining media access to the hearings.

On April 15, 1996, the South African National Broadcaster televised the first two hours of the first human rights violation committee hearing live.

Then, we have seen criticism hitting the Liberhan Commission in India, which was a long-running inquiry commissioned by the government to investigate the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992.

The Commission was originally mandated to submit its report within three months. Extensions were given 48 times, and after a delay of 17 years, the one-man commission submitted the report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on June 30, 2009. It thus took a lot of time and gave a good report, but by the time its findings came, it was too late and circumstances had changed.

Led by retired High Court Judge Liberhan, this one-man commission had cost the government Indian Rs80 million.

Appointed by former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao just two weeks after the demolition on December 6, 1992 to ward off criticism against his government for having failed to protect the mosque, the commission had recorded statements of several politicians, journalists, bureaucrats and police officials including Premier Narasimha Rao, Kalyan Singh, former Deputy Premier LK Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi, BBC correspondent Mark Tully and Mulayam Singh Yadav etc.

On November 23, 2009, the media began reporting on the contents of the report, which had been leaked before being made available to the legislature. It indicted top Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) leaders as being actively involved in the meticulous planning of the demolition of the mosque. Overall 68 people were identified as culprits.

So, while this commission was slated by general public and media for taking a lot of time, its importance was undermined after the BJP top brass had claimed “selective leaks” of the Liberhan Commission report to the media were planned and motivated, saying they had come at a time when the whole opposition was united against the government.

Research shows that governments and militaries in various countries like India, United States and Israel have gone a long way in discovering the truths by evaluating the facts placed before them and without taking recourse to any expediency, but even most of their commissions were still criticised.

Imran Khan-led PTI’s hopes, the forthcoming JIT report and Pakistan’s experience with previous fact-finding commissions:

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters must be hoping that the JIT will make history by unveiling the vital facts in the Panama case, and are optimistic that Supreme Court will not opt to place this report in the cold storage—as has been the case in Pakistan for ages.

There is no second opinion on the fact that innumerable commissions have been established in Pakistan since its inception, but no regime—civil or military– has actually possessed the courage to shed light on various national disasters, tragedies and losses that have rocked the country.

Pakistanis are also clueless as to what may have led to the dismemberment of their country in 1971; who may have benefited from the 1988 Ojhri Camp catastrophe and who may have orchestrated General Ziaul Haq’s plane crash in 1988.

Remember, the Hamoodur Rahman Commission had analysed the probable lapses of country’s army during the East Pakistan debacle of 1971. It did reportedly come up with a lot of intriguing and explosive facts, but the actual truth remains a black hole.

This Commission was set up under Justice Hamoodur Rahman (the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court). The other two members of the Commission were Justice Anwarul-Haque of Supreme Court and Justice Tufail Ali Abdul Rehman Zubedi (the former chief justice of the High Court of Sindh and Balochistan).

After cross-examining nearly 300 witnesses, this Commission had also recommended dozens of court-martials and trial of top army officers, but no heed was paid to its suggestions. Justice Hamoodur Rahman had finally submitted his report on October 23, 1974.

Apart from fixing responsibilities on key army officials, the top arbiter of his time had also blamed the then Premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for the East Pakistan fiasco. However, as was expected of him, Bhutto had gone on to accuse the Enquiry Commission of exceeding its jurisdiction.

Even General Ziaul Haq, Bhutto’s worst enemy, could not publish this report during his 10-year long reign owing to certain expediencies.

Similarly, the Ojhri Camp truth continues to remain locked up in dusty files, despite the fact that the havoc caused by this disaster is still fresh in most memories.

On April 10, 1988, the Ojhri Ammunition Depot in Rawalpindi had blown up and over 100 people were killed by the free-flying missiles and projectiles.

An investigation was thus conducted into this tragedy on orders of then Premier Mohammad Khan Junejo, but the findings of General Imranullah Khan had met the same fate as did the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report.

A Parliamentary Commission, headed by politician Aslam Khattak, was also given the same task at the same time. There is a theory that General Zia had dismissed the Junejo government on May 29, 1988, for the premier’s ‘sin’ of trying to ‘uncover the reality.’

Interestingly, successive regimes of Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and General Musharraf also could not make this report public during their tenures. The Asif Zardari-led PPP government and now Nawaz Sharif in his third tenure, have also chosen to look the other way on this issue of paramount national importance.

Four years after General Ziaul Haq’s plane had crashed near Bahawalpur in August 1998, the then Premier Nawaz Sharif had decided to form an enquiry commission under a Supreme Court judge called Justice Shafiur Rehman.

Though Justice Shafi had reportedly accused the Pakistan Army of obstructing his work, the body headed by him did not clearly blame the Pakistan Army for General Zia’s death.

Despite the fact that General Zia’s son Ijazul Haq had repeatedly been accusing General Aslam Beg (his father’s successor as the Army Chief) for the mystifying plane crash; the Shafiur Rehman Commission could just look into the possibilities of the involvement of the Shias, Americans or the Ahmedis in the disaster.

This Commission had examined all the three likely possibilities, but dismissed all of them in the end. Although this Commission was convinced that the air crash was an act of sabotage that had killed 30 senior Pakistani army officers and two important Americans, even an ordinary Pakistani had concluded the same.

No responsibilities were hence fixed by this toothless body and mystery continues to shroud Zia’s death, even though quarter of a century has gone by.

Last but not least, the report of the Abbottabad Commission, authored by Justice Javed Iqbal, was submitted to the then Pakistani premier on January 4, 2013.

Formed in June 2011, this commission was supposed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Upon submission, the report was immediately labeled as “classified” by the then prime minister and its findings were not made public. This report reportedly had scrutinized more than 3,000 documents pertaining to the raid by US forces to kill Osama on May 2, 2011.

The previous Pakistani government had declared the contents of this report as “Classified,” but it was released by “Al-Jazeera” on July 8, 2013.

The four-member Abbottabad Commission had interviewed 201 people, including the country’s intelligence leaders, in an effort to piece together the events around the May 2011 American raid.

This body had held 52 hearings and had conducted seven field visits, but an ordinary Pakistani citizen remains unaware of its findings to a large extent.

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