ISLAMABAD: The opposition parties may stick to their previous decision of boycotting a briefing on the National Action Plan (NAP) as the government announces its fresh move to hold it on May 2.
Talking to Dawn on Saturday, members of the major opposition parties said they had boycotted the previous such meeting scheduled on March 28 taking a principled position that such a briefing should be given on the floor of the house and that they were unwilling to change their declared stance.
Saying that so far the government has not formally contacted them on its fresh plan to hold the briefing on May 2, the opposition members said it was unlikely that they would change their stance.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is also the vice chairman of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), had written letters to the parliamentary leaders last month, inviting them to a briefing session on NAP on March 28. However, the government had to cancel the meeting at the last moment when the opposition members refused to participate in it.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif, however, after consulting other opposition parties had made it clear through a letter to Mr Qureshi that a briefing was acceptable only if it was given by the prime minister himself on the floor of the parliament.
Before Mr Sharif’s letter, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had already announced that his party would boycott the briefing as his party had previously rejected NAP.
Newly-appointed federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati, however, on Thursday informed the Senate that the government would brief the parliamentary leaders on the implementation of NAP on May 2.
When contacted, Opposition Leader in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq said the minister though had announced the new date for the briefing on the floor of the house, no one from the government had so far contacted them on the issue.
Similarly, parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the National Assembly Syed Naveed Qamar, when contacted, said that he was not in the loop as the announcement had come from the Senate.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb told Dawn that the decision to boycott the briefing had been unanimously taken jointly by all the parties. She said the opposition still wanted the briefing inside the parliament and by Prime Minister Imran Khan himself.
After the announcement by Mr Swati about the government’s fresh move to hold the briefing, PPP stalwart Raza Rabbani, who had previously rejected the idea of a briefing on NAP as insufficient and an attempt to create an elite group within the parliament, once again opposed the move and observed that a joint sitting of parliament should be convened for a briefing on NAP. He noted that if required, it could be an in-camera session.
He stressed it was the constitutional right of every member of parliament to be kept informed on matters of national security and contribute to the formation of policy.
PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman had regretted that the prime minister chose to outsource a briefing on NAP to his foreign minister.
In his letter to Mr Qureshi, Shahbaz Sharif had stated that the collective opposition believed 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 parliamentarians, instead of selected parliamentary leaders,” Mr Sharif had written to Mr Qureshi while responding to the latter’s invitation letter to him.
Mr Qureshi in his invitation letter 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”.
Although in the invitation letter there is no mention of the issue of giving extension to military courts, which were set up under NAP to hold trial of civilians charged with terrorism and which completed their two-year term on March 30, a number of opposition members believe that the main purpose of this activity is to seek their consent for giving second extension to these courts.
The opposition parties say they want the government to convene a joint sitting of parliament for briefing on such an important issue. Military courts were established in January 2015 and granted permission to try civilians charged with terrorism after the terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar the previous month. The courts remained non-functional in 2017 from January to March after expiry of the two-year constitutional cover.
Responding to the opposition’s demand, Mr Qureshi had stated that if the opposition parties were adamant on their demand for a briefing on the issue of NAP on the floor of the Parliament, then the government was ready for it.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2019