By Ahmed Hassan

ISLAMABAD, Dec 19: The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal has reached a consensus with the government on all issues except on extension in the upper age limit of the superior courts’ judges which the government wants to extend by two years while the alliance is not prepared to allow more than a year.

When the two sides would reach an agreement on this issue a draft of the consensus document was expected to be handed over to the MMA, official sources said.

MMA leaders Liaquat Baloch and Hafiz Hussain Ahmed had a two-hour meeting with the government team comprising PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, President Musharraf’s confidant Tariq Aziz and other officials on Friday morning.

Earlier, the MMA leaders had a meeting with the government team late Thursday night in which senator S.M. Zafar was also supposed to participate but he could not arrive from Lahore.

The negotiating teams waited for Mr Zafar all through the day on Friday for the finalization of the amendment package but he could not reach Islamabad because of delay in his flight due to inclement weather in Lahore.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Baloch said: “In two rounds of talks which focused on the finalization of draft amendments we have made our point clear that the MMA will not take part in the vote of confidence in the National Assembly, Senate or the four provincial assemblies, rather we would prefer to abstain.”

The MMA would, however, facilitate the passage of the agreed amendment by providing the government the required two-thirds majority in the house, he added.

In reply to a question, Mr Baloch said the amendment bill could be presented jointly by the government and MMA if both sides broadly agreed to its contents.

He said the MMA team waited for Mr S.M. Zafar for one full day on Friday and would join the alliance’s protest campaign in Punjab tomorrow.

Referring to the issue of extension in the upper age limit of superior courts judges, he said the government was of the view that the withdrawal of the extension could be considered as humiliation to the judiciary.

Mr Baloch said: “We have pointed out that the two-year extension will aggravate the already strained bench-bar relations and as a representative of the people we cannot accept this position which the judiciary should also appreciate.”

The MMA leader said it had been explained to the government that the MMA could not convince the bar council representatives on the issue of extension in judges age.

Asked whether the MMA would wind up its protest movement if the amendment bill was presented in the National Assembly, he said the campaign would be converted into a mass awareness programme.

Meanwhile, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed said it had been made clear to the government that the alliance would not accept any deviation from the points agreed by the two sides in Lahore on Sept 6.

He said talks and protest campaign of the MMA would go on side by side until its demands were met.

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