Wednesday July 06, 2022

Truth and reconciliation

March 27, 2021

Our beautiful homeland, Pakistan, is endowed with enormous resources. It was founded 73 years back and is still stuck in a quagmire. All our ideals, hopes and illusions have been shattered and annihilated, with society becoming so negatively polarized.

The rich and the shameless have made enough hay while the sun shone. Countries which were founded or re-founded, after Pakistan have now emerged as Asian Tigers, by dint of their governance, hard work and progressive policies.

Within this present context, Pakistan badly needs the formation of a ‘Truth and National Reconciliation Commission’. The constitution of such a commission in South Africa remained operational for a period of seven years – from 1995 to 2002. The original mandate ended in the year 1998, but it was extended.

Apartheid was a system of legally enforced racial segregation in South Africa, between 1948 and 1990. The National Party, which controlled the government, formalized and enhanced the segregationist policy. Internal resistance was met with utter police brutality, administrative retention, torture and stringent limitations on the freedom of expression. Opposition groups, such as the African National Congress the (ANC) and other movements, were banned and violently repressed.

After a series of International sanctions and the end of the cold war, a mostly peaceful transition started with a series of negotiations between the government party and the ANC in the period. Democratic elections were held in 1994 and an internal constitution was promulgated. The Truth and National Reconciliation Commission was set up by the newly elected parliament and was endorsed by the opposition leader, Nelson Mandela, and other prominent South African figures.

The Truth and National Reconciliation Commission was created to investigate the gross human rights violations that were perpetrated during the Apartheid regime, from 1960 to 1994. Its mandate covered both violations by the state and the Liberation Movements and allowed the Commission to hold special hearings, focused on specific sectors, institutions, and individuals.

Controversially, the TRC was empowered to grant amnesty to perpetrators who confessed their crimes, trustfully and completely, to the Commission. The TRC comprised 17 commissioners and was headed by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Records were systematically destroyed in massive quantities between 1990 and 1994. The Commission reported that the National Intelligence Agency was still destroying records, as late as 1996 and that “swathes of official documentary memory, particularly around the inner workings of the Apartheid State’s Security apparatus, had been obliterated”. The final report named individual perpetrators. The TRC made detailed recommendations for a reparations / compensations program, including financial, symbolic and community reparations.

The Commission further recommended that South Africa’s society and political system should be reformed, to include faith communities, business, the judiciary, prisons, the armed forces, health sector, the media and the educational institutions in the reconciliation process. A missing persons task force was established to exhume and rebury victims and to continue investigations of disappearances. Several high-level members of the former police were convicted for the attempted murder of Reverend Frank Chikane in 1989.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like restorative justice body. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.

Despite some flaws, the findings, results and compensations are generally thought to have been successful. The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation was established in 2000, as the successor organization of the TRC.

To avoid the victor’s justice, no side was exempted from appearing before the Commission. The Commission heard reports of human rights violations and considered amnesty applications from all sides, from the apartheid state to the liberation forces, including the African National Congress.

In Pakistan, in my personal opinion, we as the older generation have miserably failed to ameliorate the lot of the common citizen. Now our hope is the younger generation.

As Pakistanis, we should open up our souls and start a dialogue, instead of perpetuating hatred. It is high time we admitted our faults and rectified them.

The time has come to appeal to all and the sundry and transform them into a calm and serene, caring and compassionate force that can take away all the malice and rancor embedded in our hearts. Let us endeavour to transform Pakistan from a security state to a welfare state.

The writer is a former special assistant to the prime minister and a former convener of the MRD.