ISLAMABAD: After threats by opposition parties to boycott a planned government briefing to parliamentary leaders on the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) now seems ready to convene sessions of the National Assembly and the Senate for the purpose.
Talking to Dawn, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is also the vice chairman of the ruling party, said if the opposition parties were adamant on their demand for a briefing on the issue of NAP on the floor of parliament, then the government was ready for it.
Mr Qureshi, who had sent letters to the opposition parties inviting them for the briefing at a committee room of the Parliament House on March 28, said the main purpose of the activity was to first brief the party heads and parliamentary leaders and to listen to their viewpoint so that they could then brief their respective party members about the “national challenges” being faced by the country.
He said even after this briefing, if the opposition members believed that a discussion on the issue inside the parliament was needed, they had no objection to it.
Minister says discussion on military courts’ extension may be abandoned
Responding to a question, he said he had so far not cancelled the March 28 meeting and would soon contact the opposition parties as he had no “ego issue”.
The country’s main opposition parties have hinted at boycotting the government briefing on NAP due to the prevailing tense political atmosphere in the country.
The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) has already announced it will not participate in the March 28 meeting. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have also expressed their reservations over the government’s move and suggested to the government to convene an in-camera joint sitting of the parliament for the briefing on NAP or the military courts issue.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif last week wrote a letter to Mr Qureshi, urging him to brief the entire parliament on the matter, instead of convening a meeting of selected parliamentary leaders.
“The collective opposition believes in inclusive decision-making and promoting a sense of collective ownership of all decisions taken in the national interest. It is, therefore, suggested that your proposed briefing be given to the National Assembly so that the country can benefit from the collective wisdom of all the parliamentarians instead of selected parliamentary leaders,” he wrote in the letter to Mr Qureshi while responding to the latter’s invitation letter to him.
Mr Sharif further stated that the “national consensus achieved through an exhaustive parliamentary discussion made it possible for the nation to attain a clear direction in those challenging times”. He said: “Success of NAP was embedded in Pakistan’s parliamentary traditions and democratic values.”
Military courts’ extension
In his invitation letter, Mr Qureshi had stated that the meeting of the parliamentary leaders was being convened “to underscore our continued commitment to speedy implementation of NAP, which is clearly in the long-term interest of the people of Pakistan”.
Mr Qureshi had written that NAP, which had been developed “in the aftermath of the tragic attack on Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, was a result of a national consensus achieved through consultations with all the political parties of the country”.
Though, in the invitation letter, there was no mention of the issue of giving extension to the military courts that was set up under NAP to hold trial of civilians charged with terrorism and which are completing their two-year term on March 30, a number of opposition members believe that the main purpose of this activity being arranged by the government was to seek their consent for giving second extension to these courts.
Regarding military courts, Mr Qureshi said: “If they have apprehensions on the issue of military courts, let’s talk. We can abandon discussion on it.” He recalled that the military courts had been set up during the previous PML-N regime and that the PTI and other opposition parties at that time had managed to introduce certain amendments to the laws.
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2019