ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday agreed to form a special committee of the National Assembly to probe allegations of rigging in the July 25 general election after both sides took a step back from their stated positions over its composition.

The motion allowing Speaker Asad Qaiser to constitute the special committee in consultation with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif was moved by newly appointed Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi informed the house that talks between the government and the opposition representatives remai­ned successful on the issue.

Under an agreed formula, the committee will have equal representation from the government and the opposition sides and it will be headed by a person to be nominated by PM Khan. The two sides also agreed that since the issue of poll rigging was related to the elections for lower house of parliament, no senator would be made member of what would be called Special Committee of the National Assembly.

Moving the motion, the minister said special committee be constituted so as to “examine and make recommendations” and for finalising terms of reference (ToRs) with regard to the allegations of rigging in the 2018 general elections and taking further steps as mandated in the ToRs.

Defence minister says Punjab government has been directed to immediately stop ‘provocative advertisement’ that targeted Pakhtuns

No timeframe has been set for the committee to finalise its fact-finding report and the two sides agreed that the committee “will submit a report within such time as is agreeable” by the committee.

At the outset of the session when Mr Qureshi presented the motion in the presence of PM Khan, the opposition members, mainly from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), welcomed the move but demanded that the committee should have equal representation from the treasury and opposition benches and it should also be headed by an opposition member.

The government initially opposed both the demands stating that there were a number of past precedents when the speaker had constituted special committees comprising members in proportion to the parties’ strength in the parliament and all those committees were headed by members from the treasury benches.

Mr Qureshi and Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari reminded the house that the previous PML-N government had formed a special committee on electoral reforms and it was headed by the then finance minister, Ishaq Dar.

PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar was of the opinion that this committee was different from the previous committees, as its main task would be to hold investigations. He said since no voting would be required during the committee’s proceedings, therefore, the government should have no objection to their demand for an equal representation.

PML-N’s Khurram Dastagir said that the demand for the equal representation was justified as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was the beneficiary of the alleged rigging in the elections. He reminded the treasury benches that a parliamentary committee constituted for the appointment of chief election commissioner also comprised equal members from both sides since the issue was related to the elections.

Later, Mr Qureshi and Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood went to the opposition benches and then headed towards the opposition’s lobby along with lawmakers belonging to the PML-N and the PPP, including Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. Nearly half an hour later they returned to the house to announce a breakthrough.

Speaking on the occasion, the foreign minister said the government had agreed to the opposition’s demand as it believed in transparency, for which the PTI had made a long struggle. “We have nothing to hide,” Mr Qureshi said, claiming that the prime minister wanted to announce constitution of the committee in his victory speech soon after his election but he could not do so due to the opposition’s noisy protest. He said transparent elections were necessary for democracy.

Controversial ad

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak claimed to have taken strong notice of an objectionable public service advertisement of the Punjab government. He said the government not only stopped airing of this ad but would also take action against those responsible for it.

The issue was raised by a lawmaker from South Waziristan, Mohammad Ali Wazir, when he protested over the controversial advertisement that asked the people to be watchful of any terrorists around them. In the visuals, Pakhtuns had been portrayed as terrorists, he said.

Another MNA from North Waziristan, Mohsin Dawar, also criticised the government and demanded an apology from the Punjab government.

Agreeing to the viewpoint of the two MNAs, who previously represented the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), Mr Khattak said that the Punjab government had been directed to immediately stop this “provocative advertisement”.

Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi stated: “Targeting a particular community flares tempers, and we oppose all such measures.”

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2018