ISLAMABAD: Opposition Leader and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif has withdrawn himself from three standing committees of the National Assembly as the government intensifies its campaign to seek his resignation as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman.
There was no word from the PML-N over the decision of Shahbaz Sharif from the committees, but a “circular” issued by the National Assembly Secretariat states that the “Speaker (Asad Qaiser), on the request of Mian Mohammad Shahbaz Sharif, the Leader of the Opposition, has been pleased to exclude his name from the committees on information and broadcasting, law and justice and Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan.”
Sources in the PML-N told Dawn that Mr Sharif had taken the decision himself on the advice of some senior party leaders who were of the view that it would look awkward that the party president and the opposition leader would be attending the meetings of the committees headed by members of his own party or the ruling party. Moreover, they said, traditionally the opposition leader did not become a member of the committees.
The sources said the move would also counter an allegation that Mr Sharif wanted to be a member of the maximum committees in order to avoid detention of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Mr Sharif has been under NAB’s detention since October last year in connection with the Aashiana housing scam and he has been attending the sessions of the assembly and the meetings of the PAC after issuance of his production orders by the speaker.
The sources said a group comprising hawkish members of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), who were against the decision of Prime Minister Imran Khan to allow Mr Sharif become the PAC chairman, had succeeded in pursuing Mr Khan to reverse his decision. The group, the sources said, had told the premier that the opposition had not lower down its protest in parliament despite the government’s “leniency” in allowing Mr Sharif to become the opposition leader and, therefore, he should review his decision.
The sources said that the same group wanted the speaker not to issue production order of Mr Sharif for the National Assembly session starting from Feb 18.
A number of PTI leaders and Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on a number of occasions had publicly stated that Mr Sharif should voluntarily quit his position as the PAC chairman as he was facing corruption cases. The PTI leaders have started making this demand more vigorously particularly after its leader Aleem Khan tendered his resignation as senior minister of Punjab following his arrest by NAB last week.
The PML-N has already warned the government against any move to remove Mr Sharif from his position as the PAC chairman and its MNA Khawaja Asif had stated that “any such move will make matters worse”.
“We do not want to climb containers [to mount a public protest], but we have the capacity to disrupt the functioning of the government,” Mr Asif had said while talking to reporters in Sialkot on Sunday.
ELECTIONS: Meanwhile, members of the four recently-constituted committees on Monday elected their chairmen as per the understanding already reached between the government and the opposition.
Under the agreed formula, the chairmanship of 18 committees would go to the opposition while the remaining 20 committees would be headed by the PTI and its allies. And out of the 18 committees to be headed by the opposition, nine will go to the PML-N.
It is interesting to note that the unopposed elections of the chairmen of four committees were held during in-camera meetings on Monday.
According to a handout issued by the NA Secretariat, Chaudhry Iftikhar Nazir of the PML-N has been elected unopposed as chairman of the committee on defence production.
Similarly, PML-N’s Mian Najeeb Awaisi has been elected as chairman of the committee on federal education and professional training.
Salahuddin Ayubi of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) has been elected as chairman of the NA standing committee on narcotics control whereas Maulana Asad Mehmood of the MMA has been chosen as the chairman of the house committee on religious affairs and interfaith harmony. The elections of the chairmen of the two committees – communications and overseas Pakistanis and human resources development – were postponed at the eleventh hour. The chairmanship of both these committees will also go to the PML-N.
Meanwhile, soon after his election as chairman, Maulana Asad Mehmood, who is the son of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, decided to hold the first meeting of the committee on religious affairs on Feb 20 to discuss the issue of increased Haj expenditures after withdrawal of the subsidy by the government.
The speaker had constituted remaining 36 standing and functional committees on Feb 6. The members of 12 committees will elect their chairpersons on Tuesday.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2019