Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Saturday said the government and members of the opposition will meet on Monday to discuss draft laws concerning the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) action plan and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Speaking at a press conference in Multan, Qureshi said eight bills aimed at getting Pakistan removed from the FATF 'grey list' and one about NAB have been shared with the opposition ahead of Monday's meeting.
He said India had been trying to "push Pakistan into FATF's blacklist", and if that were to happen, the consequences for the country's economy would be "devastating". The government wants to avoid such a situation at all costs and has therefore taken a number of "concrete steps" to get Pakistan removed from the grey list and be included in the 'white list', he added.
In continuation of such efforts, Qureshi said, eight legislative bills have been prepared after consultation with the law and finance ministries and FATF experts.
He said a 24-member joint committee comprising representatives of all opposition parties as well as the government and its allies was also formed to take the opposition into confidence over the issue.
"It is Prime Minister Imran Khan's wish that the opposition be taken into confidence on this national issue and they be apprised of the matter's nature and importance," he added, saying Pakistan does not have a lot of time.
He said Pakistan has to present the practical steps it has taken before the Asia-Pacific Group, which after examining them will submit a report to the FATF plenary. The plenary will then decide whether Pakistan has fulfilled the required obligations to be removed from the watchdog's grey list, Qureshi added.
The minister said the opposition had expressed its concerns regarding the NAB law but noted that both the PPP and PML-N did not improve the accountability law during their respective five-year tenures "despite having the majority and the authority".
Examine: NAB — a farce gone too far
He said the government has now sent the nine legislative bills concerning the FATF action plan and NAB to the opposition to peruse and hold consultations. He announced that a meeting of the joint committee will be held at 5pm on Monday to discuss the proposed legislation that he will chair.
"We want to take this process forward with a good intention and address any legitimate grievances they (opposition) may have," Qureshi said, thanking the opposition parties who had become part of the committee.
He said all stakeholders have to work together to eliminate corruption but stressed that the government has no intention of using the NAB law for "witch-hunting".
"We are ready to sit and talk with them (opposition) with an open heart," Qureshi said.
The announcement of the government-opposition meeting comes as the opposition has in recent days demanded the dissolution of NAB and repeal of the accountability law, accusing the anti-graft watchdog of being used for political victimisation. The fresh demand came in the wake of a judgement of the Supreme Court with critical remarks about NAB's conduct in the Paragon housing society corruption case.
On Wednesday, the government had asked the opposition to help it strengthen the accountability law and address its weaknesses through suitable amendments.
'Smart lockdown strategy successful'
Speaking about the coronavirus situation in the country, Qureshi said some experts had initially criticised the government's management of the health crisis and predicted that there would be "1.2 million" infections and nearly 50,000 deaths from Covid-19 by July 30.
But "Allah kept Pakistan safe" and neither of the projections came true, he added, saying the government regrets the loss of life that has taken place due to the virus.
"Today our 'smart lockdown' strategy proved to be successful ... and numerous nations are following the vision outlined by Prime Minister Imran Khan," he claimed, noting that the country's infection rate, death toll and pressure on hospitals are steadily declining.
He said although Pakistan is "close to flattening" its Covid-19 curve, two "tests" of Eidul Azha and Muharram remain that could have an impact on the spread of the disease.
The minister urged the public to take precautions, saying even "a little negligence can cause a spike" in virus cases.
He said the chances of marriage halls, schools and restaurants being reopened will increase if the country avoids a resurgence of the virus during Eid and Muharram.
During his press conference, Qureshi announced that the president-elect of the United Nations General Assembly will visit Pakistan on Sunday on the government's request. During the visit, Qureshi said he will apprise the UNGA president of the deteriorating situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir and along the Line of Control, as the world prepares to mark one year since New Delhi revoked the semi-autonomous status of the occupied valley.
'Progress made regarding South Punjab'
Qureshi said the PTI government has made progress regarding its plan of creating the South Punjab province. He said the ruling party was of the view that it is not possible to manage a province of 120 million people from a single centre.
He said there were obstacles in Punjab regarding creating a separate province, but stressed that the PTI is "continuing to pursue its plan".
The minister said the government desired that matters concerning police, health, education and local government be resolved in southern Punjab instead of its residents having to go to Lahore.
He requested Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to examine the file containing proposed amendments to the relevant rules of business and give them a "practical shape".
"We will take this process (of South Punjab's creation) forward to such great extent that no one will be able to reverse it," he said.
Qureshi said he has put in a request that a separate public service commission be established, and a separate Annual Development Programme (ADP) be included in next year's provincial budget, for south Punjab. He said the constitutional amendment needed to approve the creation of South Punjab requires a two-thirds majority which no party has and which "will take time".