Opposition party leaders during a multi-party conference (MPC) in Islamabad on Wednesday finally reached consensus on the removal of Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani.
Members of the PPP, PML-N, JUI-F, Awami National Party, and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, among others, had attended the MPC held at a hotel in Islamabad to discuss the possibilities of launching an anti-government protest from a single, united platform.
JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, addressing a press conference after the 8-hour-long meeting, read out an official statement on the decisions agreed upon by all attendees.
The MPC has decided to replace Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani through lawful and Constitutional means. A rehbar committee ─ to be set up to ensure action on the points agreed upon in today's meeting ─ will also provide recommendations for possible replacements for Sanjrani, the statement said.
Additionally, the opposition parties decided to observe July 25, the date of the General Election last year, as a 'black day' due to alleged rigging in the polls. They also demanded the immediate resignation of the parliamentary committee formed to probe rigging in the election.
The participants of the meeting decided that all political parties with ties to the opposition should launch a protest against the budget, which they described as "enemy of the people, businessmen, investors, health, education, and farmers".
A mass contact campaign will be launched to apprise citizens of the government's "anti-people" agenda in order to provide relief to the masses, it was decided.
The MPC demanded that production orders be issued for arrested Waziristan MNAs Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, and called for the formation of a parliamentary committee on Waziristan so that "all facts are before the nation".
Additionally, the opposition party members also demanded the formation of a new accountability law under which all people are tried under a single law by a single institution.
With respect to Commission of Inquiry announced by the prime minister recently, the opposition demanded that no institutions should interfere with politics, and called for a parliamentary committee comprising an equal number of government and opposition members to probe all grants and debts acquired by the country from the year 2000 onwards.
The opposition also called for the return of missing persons who are in the custody of security forces and have not been presented in courts, and demanded that they be presented in courts. They also called for legislation against torture of prisoners, and for detention centres in the tribal areas to be converted into regular jails, where open courts are held to resolve cases against the prisoners.
The MPC demanded the immediate removal of unannounced restrictions and censorship of the media, and for ensuring the protection of journalists. They emphasised the need for immediate legislation in this regard.
'Political show attended by political actors'
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan in a press conference following that held by the opposition party leaders pointed out that despite the addition of all sorts of "targeted agendas" in the form of "demands, requests and lectures" that could be seen in the joint statement, nowhere did it mention the word "corruption" even once.
Describing the MPC as "a political show attended by political actors", Awan said that the opposition party leaders could have sat together and discussed the "virus in this country called corruption".
"They could have said, 'We should unite and eradicate it from Pakistan forever and formulate a strategy for it in our agenda'," the SAPM told reporters.
Awan said that those who are borne of corruption will never seek to end it, or show any commitment towards drawing up a strategy to tackle it.
"When they realised that institutions are now independent, that there is rule of law and Constitution and the noose of accountability is tightening around them, they suddenly remembered, 10 months later, the irregularities in the election," Awan said.
Through their statement, the opposition has admitted to its own shortcomings and mistakes, Awan said, pointing out that the Election Commission of Pakistan had neither been created by the ruling party, nor were any of its officials nominated by the present government.
"If you have no confidence on the election 10 months later, then that no confidence should also be applicable to the Sindh Assembly," she said. "Does this mean that in the places you have won, there has been a fair election, and where you have lost, it has been a 'selection'?" she asked, referring to the word used by opposition parties to refer to the government and the prime minister.
She said that the opposition was trying to pin responsibility for the issues it had pointed out in its statement on a 10-month-old government, claiming that they were the ones who had brought the nation to this point.
"Regardless of whether Imran Khan is selected or elected, it is his mandate. This parliament first selected him, then elected him through its vote, then gave him the mandate of the Leader of the House and then he took oath," she asserted.
"They said, 'We won't let this 'anti-people' budget pass'," the SAPM added. "This budget will be passed, because national sovereignty, the country's defence, national interest, and the opposition's bread and butter are all attached to it. If it isn't passed, how will these opposition leaders get their salaries?"
"It would have been better had they brought forth positive suggestions so that the government could have incorporated them in a serious manner into the budget," she said.
"The debts that they are talking about, why do they forget that these debts were taken during their own tenure and that the government to now pay interest on those loans, has to take new loans?" she questioned.
"And when you make payments in dollars, obviously there will be pressure on the rupee. This government had to pay an instalment on one of your Rs3,000 billion loans that was due, that's why there was pressure on the rupee today and the people are suffering for it," she pointed out, referring to the Rs7.2 increase in the value of the dollar in the interbank market.
'Shake the foundations of the govt'
PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, while addressing the MPC, called for consensus on the decision for a change in the Senate chairmanship and deputy chairmanship, a move which she claimed would "shake the foundations of the government".
After the meeting, she held that although the removal of the chairman and deputy chairman would "not solve all problems", it would be a big hit to the government.
Her statement comes a day after senators belonging to the PPP and PML-N opposed the passage of a no-confidence motion against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and refused to be a part of it. PPP leadership has also been advised against such a move by the party's senators.
Speculation is rife about cracks within the PML-N's own ranks, which Maryam has denied previously, and did so again today after the meeting: "Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif, Hamza and I are as one, there are no differences in the party," she said, responding to a question posed by reporters.
"The entire party has faith in Shehbaz and Nawaz. We can have differences of opinion, but the final decision ─ which is happily accepted ─ rests with the leadership," she reiterated.
Maryam, while addressing the MPC, also asked what the Constitution had to say about the entire opposition submitting their resignations.
She also called for discussion on the possibility of a 'shut down' in Islamabad, with PML-N support from Punjab, PPP from Sindh, JUI-F and Jamaat-i-Islami from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Balochistan Awami Party and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party from Balochistan.
The PML-N vice president proposed that all captives in custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) should be declared political prisoners.
"Our fight is not with [Prime Minister] Imran Khan but with those who selected him," she said.
After the meeting, the PML-N leader told journalists that she believes "this fake government should not be accepted", and that "Pakistan will deteriorate for as long as they are in power".
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif during the MPC urged the opposition to unite in order to "take the nation out of their hardship". He said the nation is reeling under the "anti-people" budget presented by the government and the opposition should strive together to make the budget unsuccessful.
According to sources, Maulana Fazl suggested that opposition parties should tender resignations in all assemblies in order to build pressure on the government, but some major opposition parties expressed reservations over the proposal.
Meanwhile, ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan suggested that Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani should be replaced in order to earn the nation's trust for the opposition, the sources said.
An 11-member committee was formed to formulate the joint statement of the MPC after taking into consideration all recommendations.
Who was in attendance?
The PPP and the PML-N had constituted special teams to attend the MPC being hosted by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) with a view to ensuring the presence of their MNAs in the National Assembly during the voting process on the budget.
The Balochistan National Party (Mengal), which had been attending opposition meetings despite sitting on the treasury benches, decided against attending the MPC on Wednesday. In a written message sent to Maulana Fazlur Rehman, BNP-M chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal asked the opposition to consider his party's recommendations. The Jamaat-i-Islami, which is sitting on the opposition benches, had already distanced itself from the MPC.
Mengal today led a delegation of his party to a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan. No details of the meeting were immediately available.
Prominent among those attending the MPC being chaired by Maulana Fazl are: Shahbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ayaz Sadiq and Raja Zafarul Haq from the PML-N; Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Sherry Rehman, Raza Rabbani, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Farhatullah Babar from the PPP; Asfandyar Wali Khan, Mian Iftikhar and Ameer Haider Khan Hoti of the Awami National Party; National Party President Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo; Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chairman Mehmood Khan Achakzai; and Qaumi Watan Party chairman Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, among others.
Prior to the MPC, the parliamentary parties of the opposition held a separate meeting inside the National Assembly to formulate their strategy for the budget session. Earlier, Maryam met her uncle, Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif, at the Ministers Enclave to discuss matters related to the opposition moot.
Speaking to reporters in the parliament, Shahbaz said the opposition would make every effort to make the MPC called by Maulana Fazl a success.
The decision to hold the MPC had been made by the leaders of 11 opposition parties during a well-attended Iftar dinner hosted by Bilawal in Islamabad last month. The dinner was also attended by Maryam and Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz.
In the meeting, Maulana Fazl had called for launching a full-fledged anti-government movement soon after Eidul Fitr, saying that they “are already too late”. But his proposal was not warmly received by the PPP and the PML-N.
With additional reporting by Nadir Guramani.