ISLAMABAD: After much sound and fury, political foes of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lifted a threat to oust its 28 members in the National Assembly rather warily on Thursday as they seemed banding again against what they see the party’s aggressive politics, even if it meant extending an olive broach to a beleaguered Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain.
After days of persuasion by both the government and opposition leaders, and somewhat frantic moves overnight, the government-allied Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) and the opposition MQM withdrew their motions seeking to deseat the PTI members for their long absence from the house during a historic protest sit-in outside the Parliament House last year.
But they seemed to have got nothing in return from the PTI, not even a signature on what looked like a face-saving resolution adopted by the house just before the withdrawal of the two motions, reaffirming a pledge to uphold the Constitution and supremacy of parliament.
PTI lawmakers continued a boycott of the house for the third day running to protest against alleged procrastination on the issue over the past few days but, according to an earlier pledge by party vice-chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, were likely to return to the chamber on Friday after the decision taken on their membership.
The identical motions, tabled as early as April 22, by an MQM member, Mohammad Salman Khan Baloch, and JUI-F’s Naeema Kishwar Khan, had challenged the membership of the PTI lawmakers, including party chairman Imran Khan, under Clause (2) of Article 64 of the Constitution that says: “A house may declare the seat of a member vacant if, without leave of the house, he remains absent for forty consecutive days of its sitting.”
The movers read out fresh motions, one by one, to withdraw their earlier motions, which the chair ruled withdrawn after the house, on a government move, suspended all other business on the day’s agenda.
The motions had no chance of success after commitments by the ruling PML-N and the main opposition PPP to oppose them.
But the government has been insisting that it would not like a vote on the issue and wanted the two parties to withdraw their moves, apparently either to avoid exposing feared differences within the ruling party or to see PTI lawmakers rub their noses in as a punishment for their daily insults hurled at PML-N leaders during the party’s 126-day sit-in in Islamabad.
JUI-F and MQM withdraw their motions seeking to deseat the PTI members from the National Assembly
After a personal appeal to the JUI-F and MQM by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a speech in the house on Wednesday to withdraw the motions drew no immediate commitments, the government camp appeared frantic when Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq entered the fray as a mediator. He made an unusual telephone call to the self-exiled MQM chief in London despite a spate of recent allegations levelled against Altaf Hussain by government functionaries, including Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, for alleged remarks insulting Pakistan’s armed forces and inviting foreign intervention.
In a prepared statement to the house, the speaker acknowledged “some friends” thought he should not talk to Mr Hussain but said his office required him to “take even the most difficult decision for the sake of parliamentary traditions and democracy” and take all stake-holders on board.
Before talking to him about the deseating motions, he said he told Mr Hussain of the severe resentment and anger in Pakistan against the MQM leader’s attack against the armed forces, Rangers and police whose personnel, he said, “are our sons and brothers” busy fighting “murderers and terrorists” in Karachi an elsewhere in the country and that in this situation “an attack on the role of Pakistan’s armed forces is in effect an attack on Pakistan” itself.
He quoted Mr Hussain as telling him that the jawans of Pakistani armed forces and other law-enforcement institutions “are our children as well and we also have a similar love and regard for them”.
The speaker said that on his suggestion to better make the same statement publicly “before everybody”, the MQM leader told him to say this on behalf and he would confirm it. “So this sentence of his was a trust with me that I have conveyed to you,” he said.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, while announcing his decision to withdraw his party’s motion by what he called submitting to the decision of the majority, said he had also talked overnight to the MQM chief and to PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari (now in Dubai) who “called it a better decision”.
Opposition leader Khursheed Ahmed Shah described the day’s developments as a victory for democracy and parliament, rather than of any party, and called for a similar demonstration of political tolerance in the future.
In what seemed an unusually softer line of the government camp about the MQM, Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq called for an end to what he called “chapqalish” (quarrel) between the MQM and law-enforcement agencies.
But Mr Rafiq, Climate Change Minister Senator Mushahidullah Khan, and the JUI-F chief before them, bitterly criticised the PTI for its past conduct, particularly Imran Khan, with Senator Khan using some unprintable words about the PTI chief.
While Maulana Fazl said his party stood by its views about the PTI membership despite its latest decision, MQM parliamentary leader Farooq Sattar said his party had withdrawn its motion unconditionally and, in a reference to developments in Karachi, also called for an end to “this kind of adventurism”.
Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a PTI ally, sparked some angry shouts and exchanges from treasury benches after he described Imran Khan as the “real opposition in the country today”.
Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2015