ISLAMABAD: Instead of constituting a parliamentary commission to probe former ambassador Husain Haqqani’s startling claims about visas for American spies, National Assem­bly Spea­ker Ayaz Sadiq has referred the matter to the lower house’s foreign affairs committee.

Awais Leghari, who heads the foreign affairs committee, will begin the process by initiating consultations with Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and opposition parties on Monday over the proposal for investigating the matter. The foreign affairs committee chairman also intends to involve the NA committee on defence in the proceedings.

The demand for a multi-party parliamentary commission came from the defence minister during a discussion in the National Assembly on Wednesday over an article by Mr Haqqani in the Washington Post in which he claimed that he had facilitated the stationing of US Special Operations and intelligence personnel on the ground in Pakistan with the approval of the civilian leadership. This, he said, helped the United States locate Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and eliminate him without involving Pakistani military and intelligence.

The matter had been raised in the National Assembly on a point of order by Mr Leghari.

Senate defence committee chief Mushahid says such bodies don’t have wherewithal to hold investigation

Mr Asif’s proposal was backed by the opposition parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party, which had appointed Mr Haqqani as ambassador in the United States and whose claim implicated then president Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the PPP, and then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani.

Mr Leghari told Dawn the speaker was averse to the idea of creating new bodies and wanted to utilise the National Assembly’s existing system for looking into the matter.

“I shall proceed in a detailed and structured manner and look into the specifics,” Mr Leghari said.

Although parliamentary committees are considered the eyes and ears — as well as the brains — of a legislature, there are hardly any known instances in the country’s history that a probe into such a high-profile case had been assigned to these bodies. There have, however, been demands in the past from political parties for a parliamentary role in investigating cases like the Memogate scandal and the Army Public School carnage.

The rules do not invest parliamentary committees with investigative powers. The capacity of the committees for conducting such inquiries is another issue.

Parliamentary bodies can at best seek information from government departments.

The committees, it must be noted, are tasked with oversight and monitoring of the ministries assigned to them by keeping an eye on their administrative functioning, expenditures and policies.

They also deliberate on the legislation referred to them and entertain public petitions.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, who heads the Senate defence committee, believes that the “committees do not have the required wherewithal to conduct investigations”. He contends that the committees can only hold public hearings.

Senator Farhatullah Babar is of the view that the committees can direct government agencies to investigate some issue and examine their findings after which they could approve or reject the outcome, but cannot investigate on their own. Committee members aren’t experts, he added.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2017



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