ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday constituted a three-member committee of the ruling party to fix responsibility for the controversial amendment to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat declaration for electoral candidates.

The committee, headed by party chairman Raja Zafarul Haq, includes Interior Minister and acting PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, as well as Mushahidullah Khan, the minister for climate change and party information secretary.

The change in the language of the candidates’ declaration form in the newly-passed Elections Act 2017 had enraged religious parties, who threatened to launch an agitation against the amendment, which they claimed had been made intentionally to fulfil the western agenda.

Fearing a possible backlash that could spark widespread political unrest in the country, the government immediately agreed to reconsider its initial stance on the matter and restore the original text of the declaration.

Last week, the National Assembly unanimously adopted amendments to the recently-adopted law and restored the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat declaration for candidates, as well as two clauses on the status of Ahmadis, to their original form in an effort to end the controversy.

The amendments were tabled by Law Minister Zahid Hamid a day after Speaker Ayaz Sadiq admitted that the change was due to a “clerical error”.

The house also restored clauses 7-B and 7-C of the Conduct of Elections Order, 2002, which had been removed with the repeal of the entire order.

Sources in the PML-N say Mr Sharif’s decision to constitute an inquiry committee had been conveyed to party members by the former PM’s political secretary, Senator Asif Kirmani. Sources said Mr Sharif had told the committee to submit its report to him “within 24 hours”.

Leader of the House in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq told Dawn that he had received the directions regarding the formation of the committee, but clarified that “24 hours” here meant “24 working hours”.

Mr Haq said that he had already contacted other members of the committee and fixed a time for a meeting. He said that while Mushahidullah Khan was in Islamabad, Mr Iqbal had returned to his constituency of Narowal and would arrive in Islamabad today (Sunday).

He said the party chief had constituted the committee in order to end the ongoing controversy, and in the light of the demands for an inquiry into the matter.

The PML-N chairman was surprised that the issue only came to light after the bill had already sailed through committees of both houses, before its passage from the National Assembly and the Senate.

He said it was Senator Hafiz Hamdullah of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) who mentioned this controversy at the time of the bill’s passage in the Senate and moved an amendment questioning the logic behind the proposed change in the declaration.

Mr Haq claimed he had supported the JUI-F senator’s amendment, which was defeated by two votes. He said it was unfortunate that members did not read draft legislation before passing it.

The PML-N chairman said the committee would formally begin its work from tomorrow (Monday) after obtaining the necessary documents and record from the secretariats of the National Assembly and the Senate and other concerned departments.

He clarified that the committee was formed by the party president and should not be considered a governmental committee.

When the final amendment restoring the declaration to its original form was passed, several parliamentarians — including government allies — demanded action against those responsible for the controversy.

Former prime minister Zafarullah Jamali, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi, MQM’s Sheikh Salahuddin and Sahibzada Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami had all termed the move a blunder and called for an inquiry.

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2017

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