ISLAMABAD: Former military ruler retired General Pervez Musharraf left the country last week for treatment following a Supreme Court order. But his departure became the sticking point that turned Monday’s joint sitting of parliament into a political slugfest between the government and the opposition.
Buoyed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s presence in the house, parliamentary leaders of the opposition PTI and PPP used the opportunity to remind the PM how he had let the former president and his arch-nemesis off the hook without taking parliament into confidence.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurhseed Shah, and PTI parliamentary leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi, one after the other, recalled how the PM — soon after taking office on June 24, 2013 — had declared in the lower house that his government would try Gen Musharraf under Article 6.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan responded in kind, taking the opposition to task for what he termed their “criminal negligence of not taking the general to court”. The minister’s argument was that after the Supreme Court decision, the government was left with no option but to remove the former dictator’s name from the Exit Control List.
Interior minister chides PPP for not prosecuting the general during its rule
The sitting commenced at around 5.30pm, following a marathon meeting that lasted over two hours where Finance Minister Ishaq Dar briefed the opposition on the government’s plan to improve the operations of the fledgling national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
In the meeting, both sides also discussed the ruling by Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, where he had sought changes to the rules regarding the summoning of a jointing sitting of parliament. The debate on Musharraf’s exit was initiated by PTI’s Mr Qureshi, who at the outset said that though “this sitting is purely for legislation within the realm of the Constitution, will the government brief this house how a usurper, an accused under Article 6, was allowed to leave the country?”
Despite the speaker’s repeated requests that Mr Qureshi restrict himself to the agenda of the sitting, Mr Qureshi continued to criticise the government for allowing Gen Musharraf to leave the country.
Mr Shah picked up where Mr Qureshi had left off and tried to rub the salt into the PML-N’s wounds by recalling how the former military strongman had not only thrown the party out of power, but also mistreated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family.
Mr Shah had just picked up momentum when the call for evening prayers was sounded. But instead of allowing the opposition leader to complete his speech, which is what usually happens, the speaker announced a 20-minute prayer break. This allowed the PM to skip out and, consequently, he was not in the house for the most hard-hitting part of Mr Shah’s speech.
Mr Shah looked fully prepared and recalled during his remarks a June 24, 2013, speech by the prime minister, where he had announced his intentions to try Musharraf for treason. Mr Shah also recalled the statements that sitting federal ministers had been issuing against Gen Musharraf.
“You’re right; the general frequently travelled in and out of the country during the PPP’s time in power. But we never initiated proceedings against him under Article 6. Since you declared you would do so, we [want to know] what happened to your commitment,” the opposition leader asked.
The interior minister, who had lashed out at the PPP for not having the courage to try the general, despite his nomination in the Benazir Bhutto murder case, also came after them for staying quiet when the case was being argued in court.
“Who stopped the PPP from becoming a party in the case against the general? This reflects badly on a party that takes pride in offering sacrifices for the supremacy of the Constitution and rule of law,” Chaudhry Nisar retorted.
The minister promised to respond in detail over the issue of General Musharraf’s departure during the National Assembly session, which will resume on Thursday. “There is a clear understanding that after the SC upheld the Sindh High Court decision, the federal government could not stop him,” he said.
But PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan quipped that the SC decision had put the ball in the government’s court and it was up to them whether to allow General Musharraf to proceed abroad or not.
Meanwhile, the MQM staged a token walk out against what Farooq Sattar termed the continuous harassment of his party workers, some of whom had gone missing.
PIA Bill: The government and opposition will again meet on Tuesday morning to decide whether the bill to turn PIA into a public limited company will be passed with consensus.
After Monday’s meeting, opposition leaders argued, both inside and outside parliament, that since the Senate had twice rejected the PIA bill, it should be sent to the Council of Common Interests (CCI).
According to a participant of the meeting, the opposition had sought special guarantees for PIA employees and a commitment for the preservation of the airline’s assets. The participant said that while the government had given verbal assurances, but “we have sought written promises from them”.
Ruling: On the Senate chairman’s ruling, both sides decided to sit down with legal experts to find a solution. According to Mr Rabbani, the National Assembly speaker and Senate Chairman must also be allowed to summon a joint sitting of the house over legislative matters. This is currently only a prerogative of the government. Ishaq Dar accepted on the floor of the house that there were some anomalies regarding the summoning of a joint sitting, which he said must be resolved through consensus.
Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016