ISLAMABAD: Members of the ruling coalition on Saturday assured Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of their complete support and cooperation over the Panama Papers inquiry commission.
The prime minister and his team met leaders of coalition parties and took them into confidence over the government’s strategy to deal with the opposition.
Terming the opposition-proposed terms of reference (ToR) “unconstitutional and illegal”, coalition partners urged the prime minister to respond seriously to opposition parties over their proposal for a judicial inquiry into the allegations thrown up by the leaks.
“We all have reservations over the ToR prepared by the opposition. We believe these are not in accordance with the law and the Constitution,” JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman told reporters after meeting the prime minister.
Fazl sees country headed towards ‘unconstitutional situation’; Qureshi reiterates demand for PM’s exit
He was accompanied by Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party, Ijazul Haq of Pakistan Muslim League-Zia and Sajid Mir of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith.
“The way our friends in the opposition are creating confusion amongst the people, God forbid [it seems as if] the country is being led towards an unconstitutional situation,” the JUI-F chief said, asking the opposition to confine itself within the limits of the law and the Constitution.
The JUI-F chief said the prime minister had called coalition members for a consultation and briefing on the ToR, which the opposition had formally sent to the government.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman also criticised the opposition for constantly changing its position over the Panama Papers issue, saying they had first rejected the commission under a retired judge and demanded investigation through the FIA, then called for a parliamentary committee and were now bent on creating controversy around the ToR when the prime minister had already written to the chief justice of Pakistan at the opposition’s insistence.
In addition to the prime minister, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif were present during the meeting on Saturday.
The opposition parties want the proposed judicial commission to first inquire into allegations of money laundering and tax evasion against the prime minister and his family, and then move onto the other 200 or so Pakistanis, whose names had appeared in the Panama Papers.
However, owing to the differences within their ranks, opposition parties had decided not to press their demand for the prime minister’s resignation.
Nine opposition parties had joined hands on the Panama leaks issue, including the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, PML-Quaid, Balochistan National Party-Mengal, Jamaat-i-Islami, Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party and Awami Muslim League.
Key government ministers have already stated that the ruling party is ready to hold negotiations with the opposition to develop a consensus on the ToR.
Shakeel Ahmed adds from Multan: PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi, meanwhile, reiterated his party’s own demand for the prime minister’s resignation and claimed that nearly all political parties are demanding the same.
Speaking to lawyers at the Multan District Bar Association, where he shared copies of the opposition-drafted ToR with the legal community, Mr Shah recalled how former Indian prime minister Narasimha Rao also had to resign from his post over corruption claims, and later rejoined the office when the allegations were proven to be untrue.
He maintained that the opposition had spent a lot of time and effort drafting the ToR, in consultation with senior lawyers such as Aitzaz Ahsan and Hamid Khan, and called on the legal community to suggest any amendments they felt would be beneficial to the inquiry.
In a reference to the recent arrest of the Balochistan finance secretary Mushtaq Raisani, he said it was unfortunate that someone who was looting public money was also responsible for preparing the provincial budget.
Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2016