ISLAMABAD: It is a rare occasion when an opposition party opposes any piece of legislation proposed by another party on the same bench. It is even rarer for the government not to oppose in the National Assembly a private members’ bill that generates any controversy.

But on Tuesday, the fissures between members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the rest of their bench really came to the fore, as the entire opposition cohort seemed dead set against an MQM-sponsored amendment aimed at reforming the National Finance Commis­sion (NFC) award.

The amendment moved by MQM leader Farooq Sattar proposes an addition to Article 160 of the Constitution, which deals with the NFC. It proposes that the award “shall compulsorily be distributed by the government of the province [among] the division/districts in the same manner as per the formula agreed between the federation and the provinces”.

“Provinces can be the final word in our constitutional scheme, but they cannot be the determinants of how resources are distributed at the local level,” he said, introducing the bill before the house.

Former speaker calls for unanimous resolution against ‘Free Balochistan’ propaganda

He listed population, backwardness, inverse population ratio, area and revenue generation as the criteria for the distribution of resources. Since Karachi is a revenue engine, he maintained that the province received a large chunk of resources that did not trickle down to the other cities of the province.

But even before the deputy speaker could ask for the government’s opinion on the matter, Syed Naveed Qamar was on his feet. “The Constitution makes Pakistan a federation. Developed countries have areas divided up into administrative divisions, but Pakistan was not formed like this; all the different assemblies voted to be part of Pakistan.”

“When we bypass the provinces and talk of directly sending resources to the districts, we are proposing something that is contradictory to the basic scheme of the Constitution,” he said, declaring that the amendment should be rejected forthwith.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sheikh Aftab Ahmed echoed this viewpoint, and opposed the amendment in principle. However, he suggested that it be referred to the relevant standing committee for debate.

Qaumi Watan Party leader Aftab Sherpao said the distribution of the NFC award was contingent on several factors and was agreed upon by the federal and provincial governments.

“The matter of distribution within the province should be taken up in the relevant provincial assembly,” he said.

Sahibzada Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami also opposed the amendment, saying that this would be unjust to the smaller provinces, while Naeema Kishwar Khan of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl sugges­ted that such a move should originate from the provinces.

It is no secret that Mut­tahida’s relationship with the main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is tenuous and the two do not see eye to eye when it comes to Sindh, especially Karachi.

Although it sits on the opposition benches, MQM often sides with the government on key issues. The party has even begun lobbying to replace Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah, and is in talks with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf to install Shah Mehmood Qureshi in his place. Incidentally, Muttahida had played a central role in getting Mr Shah elected as the opposition leader back in 2013.

The MQM also received similar treatment from the opposition last week, when its Redistributive Land Reforms Bill 2017 was roundly rejected by all parties on the floor of the house.

Also on Tuesday, PPP leader Fehmida Mirza called on the Balochistan Assembly to pass a resolution condemning the ‘Free Balo­chistan’ propaganda campaign, which had emerged in Geneva, Switzerland.

Speaking on a point of order, the former speaker called for the passage of a unanimous resolution from the National Assembly, which she said would give more strength to PM Abbasi, who would soon be addressing the UN General Assembly.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2017