• Committee being formed to hold talks with govt on issue of military courts
• Zardari says ‘alliance’ has been formed
• Ruling coalition partner BNP-M takes part in opposition meeting
• Deputy speaker abruptly adjourns NA session after protest
ISLAMABAD: Demonstrating a rare unity, opposition parties on Tuesday agreed on formation of a committee to finalise a joint strategy to give a tough time to the ruling coalition inside and outside the parliament and to hold negotiations with the government on the issue of granting a second extension to the military courts set up in 2015 to try civilians on charges of terrorism.
The decision to form the committee was announced by Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif while talking to reporters after hosting a meeting of leaders of the opposition parties, including former president Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. The names of the committee members will be announced later.
The meeting was also attended by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) MNAs Maulana Asad Mehmood and Maulana Abdul Wasay and Awami National Party (ANP) leader Ameer Haider Khan Hoti. PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique also participated in the meeting after issuance of his production order by Speaker Asad Qaiser for the current NA session which is expected to continue till Jan 25.
The meeting was held in the opposition leader’s chamber hours after Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri abruptly adjourned the assembly sitting due to a strong protest by the opposition members over his refusal to order a re-vote on a bill seeking increase in the number of judges of the Islamabad High Court and allocation of provincial quota in the appointment of judges. The bill had been submitted by Aliya Kamran of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA).
Shahbaz Sharif received Mr Zardari outside his chamber before the start of the meeting which continued for more than two hours. It was also attended by representatives of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) — a partner in the ruling coalition.
Soon after the general elections, the opposition parties had agreed to jointly contest the elections for the offices of speaker, deputy speaker and prime minister. However, the opposition alliance crumbled after the PPP refused to vote for Shahbaz Sharif for the office of prime minister in August last year.
The opposition parties made another attempt to forge an alliance at the time of the presidential elections, but failed to field a joint candidate against the PTI’s nominee Arif Alvi when the PML-N and other opposition parties supported Maulana Fazlur Rehman, whereas the PPP fielded Aitzaz Ahsan for the top office.
Talking to the reporters after the meeting, the opposition leader said they had decided to form a committee having representation of all the opposition parties to devise a joint strategy on various issues.
Mr Sharif, who was accompanied by Mr Bhutto-Zardari, said the committee would be tasked with holding talks with the government on any issue, including the proposed move to give another extension to the military courts. “The combined opposition will adopt the strategy which will be in the best interest of the country.”
When reporters asked Asif Zardari if the opposition parties were about to forge an alliance, he simply said: “Alliance has (already) been formed.”
Mr Sharif said the nation had been facing unprecedented price hike due to “incompetence, negligence and indiscipline” of the five-month-old Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government. He said that on the one hand the government had increased the rates of electricity and gas and, on the other hand, these were not available to the people.
Mr Sharif alleged that the government was producing electricity with the most expensive furnace oil, whereas the cheapest power plants had been shut down. He also lamented the government’s decision to allow increase in the prices of medicines. Ridiculing the government’s economic policies, he said that even the local investors were not ready to make investments in the country what to talk about the foreign investment.
The opposition leader said that exports were stagnant, whereas the prices of imports had gone up due to a 30 per cent devaluation of the rupee against the dollar. “All this is a proof of the government’s worst incompetence.”
Mr Sharif once again castigated the government for awarding the contract for Rs309 billion Mohmand dam project to a firm owned by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, terming the move “cronyism”.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari said that it was a good decision of the opposition parties to form a committee to come up with a joint stance. He said the opposition parties had agreed that they would not make any compromise on “democratic, economic and human rights issues”. He alleged that the government had launched “attacks on the democratic and human rights” of the citizens.
Later in a message on Twitter, the PPP chairman termed it a “positive meeting” and disclosed that they had discussed mini-budget, military courts and “a new charter of democracy” during the meeting.
Talking to Dawn, PPP vice president Sherry Rehman said the participants of the meeting had expressed the desire for broadening the scope of the charter of democracy and including other parties in it as well to meet the future challenges.
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb issued a ‘declaration’ after the meeting, stating that the opposition parties had also expressed concern over the federal government’s interference in the affairs of the provinces and move to destabilise provincial governments.
Through the declaration, the opposition parties termed such behaviour dangerous for the federation. They also vowed to oppose the mini-budget which the government wanted to present on Jan 23.
Earlier in the day, the business in the lower house of parliament was disrupted again after the opposition lodged a strong protest against the deputy speaker’s decision not to hold a re-vote when an opposition MNA introduced a bill pertaining to the quota of judges in the IHC.
It all started when the confused deputy speaker did not allow the JUI-F MNA to introduce the IHC (Amendment) Bill 2019 on the basis of a voice vote when the bill was opposed by Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice Maleeka Bukhari.
When the mover challenged the chair’s ruling, he ordered a headcount which revealed that 96 MNAs sitting on the treasury benches opposed the bill, while 94 opposition members voted in favour of it.
However, when Mr Suri announced the result of the voting, the opposition members rejected it and asked him to order a re-vote. When the deputy speaker declared that the rules did not allow him to hold a re-vote, the opposition members gathered in front of his dais. Unable to control the situation, Mr Suri announced suspension of the proceedings for 10 minutes. However, he returned to the house after an hour to announce adjournment of the session till 11am on Wednesday.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2019