ISLAMABAD, Oct 12: In a new, bipartisan peace move for Balochistan, which apparently lifted a sombre house, the National Assembly on Friday asked the government with one voice to immediately set up an “all-parties commission” to bring the restive province’s estranged leadership to political mainstream.
In another significant show of a new-found cordiality between political rivals, the house also unanimously passed another resolution demanding reversion to monthly -- from the recently introduced weekly – fixing of domestic prices of petroleum products.
Both the resolutions came from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) amid a rare expression of thanks for the government from opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for agreeing to them as well as some bonhomie between the two sides across their desks seen before the house was adjourned for a two-day weekend until 5pm on Monday instead of being prorogued as earlier scheduled.
Lawmakers’ smiles inside and outside the house amid hopes of early actions by the government on both issues seemed to have somewhat lifted their spirits after days of gloom caused by last Tuesday’s shooting and critically wounding of a Swat valley girl activist, Malala Yousafzai, claimed by Taliban militants, which has sparked an international outrage.
The move came when the focus on Balochistan has increased by Supreme Court hearings on the so-called missing persons from the province, statements of a dissident former provincial chief minister, Akhtar Mengal, before the court and outside, and reiteration of the government’s standpoint by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf that it was ready to negotiate with every Baloch dissident who laid down weapons and accepted Pakistan’s constitution. Adding to the urgency would be the coming general elections with all political parties likely to have a foothold or alliances in a province where politics is dominated by tribal chieftains.
In a speech before his party colleague Zahid Hamid moved the two resolutions, Chaudhry Nisar said the proposed commission would not supersede, but rather “complement and supplement” an existing bipartisan parliamentary committee on Balochistan headed by Defence Minister Naveed Qamar of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party whose report is yet to come before the house.
The opposition leader, who earlier had an apparently friendly last-minute standing chat at his desk with PPP chief whip and Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Ahmed Shah and Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek, recalled his time as petroleum minister in the last PML-N government in the 1990s to assert that the present petroleum prices in Pakistan were not in proportion to international prices as often stated by the government and demanded that price fixing should eventually be done after every three months was the case under his party government.
There was no government response to the opposition leader’s first speech of the current session, which began on Oct 5, except an endorsement of the resolution on petroleum prices by Wasim Akhtar of the government-allied Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
The resolution on Balochistan said the house was “deeply conscious of the urgent need to bring about a broad-based and effective political reconciliation” in the insurgency-hit province to enable “active participation of all political parties and leaders in the national democratic process” and ensure “full and proper representation and empowerment of the people of Balochistan”.
“Such reconciliation will also make a major contribution towards much-needed improvement of the law and order situation and improvement of impediments in the rapid development of the province,” it said.
“For this purpose, this house calls upon the federal government to immediately set up an all-parties commission, comprising members from all major political parties, including those not represented in the present parliament, with the mandate to bring all estranged leaders/political parties in Balochistan back into the political mainstream,” the resolution said.
“The commission shall urgently reach out to, and establish lines of communication with, these leaders/parties and convey, inter alia, the genuine desire of this house to rectify past mistakes and ensure the supremacy of the constitution, the rule of law and dispensation of justice.”
The second resolution “strongly” deprecated the frequent petroleum price increases which it said were causing “immense misery and suffering for the common man”, adversely affecting the industrial, agricultural and transport sectors and “bringing the economy to the brink of collapse”.
Calling the increases “unbearable” and noting weekly price fluctuations were also “giving rise to huge uncertainty, artificial shortages and higher costs, the resolution called upon the government to “immediately withdraw the decision to review prices on a weekly basis and instead put in place an open and transparent system for price fixing whereby prices are determined monthly on the basis of data made freely available by Ogra”.
It also called upon the government to review its petroleum levy charged on the quantity of petroleum products – in addition to general sales tax based on prices – in light of what it called “previous unanimous resolutions” of the house and the petroleum minister’s statements in the Senate.
There no immediate explanation of the house’s adjournment to Monday instead of being prorogued as scheduled, but the move raised some immediate speculations that the government might still seek an early adoption of a new accountability bill introduced last week though the house standing committee on law and justice had adjourned its consideration of the draft until Oct 18.
On a Dawn query immediately after the session broke for the day, a prominent PPP lawmaker and Public Accounts Committee chairman, Nadeem Afzal Gondal, quoted the PPP chief whip as saying the session would continued until Tuesday.