FATF bills again expose opposition disunity

Updated 31 Jul 2020

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JUI-F annoyed with PPP, PML-N for supporting govt in parliament. — APP/File
JUI-F annoyed with PPP, PML-N for supporting govt in parliament. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Cracks appeared in the ranks of the opposition only a week after an announcement by its leaders about a joint anti-government movement after Eid when on Thursday the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) protested against the act of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of helping the government in getting the FATF-related bills passed in parliament, and announced it would no longer cooperate with the two opposition parties in parliament in future.

The announcement was made by Senator Maulana Ataur Rehman, who is the brother of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri while speaking in the Senate soon after the passage of the two FATF-related legislations which their party had opposed.

Sources told Dawn that after getting the two bills passed from the National Assembly amid opposition’s protest on Wednesday evening, the government through Speaker Asad Qaiser established a contact with the opposition to have a smooth sailing over the legislations in the Senate, where the opposition is in a majority.

The opposition had protested over the passage of the bills in the assembly without accommodation of their amendments although the government had agreed to make them part of the bills at the parliamentary committee level.

JUI-F annoyed with PPP, PML-N for supporting govt in parliament

The sources said it was PPP’s Sherry Rehman who made hectic efforts to ensure the presence of maximum number of opposition senators in the sitting to give a tough time to the government, if it refused to accept their amendments.

They said the opposition told the speaker that they would not hold talks with the government if Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi would be there, as he had violated the sanctity of the negotiations by disclosing the details of the informal discussions.

It was after an agreement was reached between the government team, comprising Law Minister Farogh Naseem and PTI’s chief whip Aamir Dogar, and PPP’s Sherry Rehman and Naveed Qamar at the residence of the speaker that the government summoned the new session of the National Assembly well after midnight in an unprecedented manner, thus making the meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice a mere formality.

And presenting the report of the committee on the bills, its chairman Javed Abbasi, who belongs to the PML-N, praised Law Minister Naseem for accepting the opposition-proposed changes in the bills with an open heart.

When the government side appreciated the gesture shown by the PPP and the PML-N, the JUI-F members accused the two parties of always damaging the opposition’s unity.

“The way the opposition parties provided support to the government (over the bills) is regrettable. Our stance was not even heard,” said JUI-F’s Maulana Rehman.

He said by providing support to the government through the amendments, the two parties had exposed “opposition’s weakness”.

“We have a complaint with the two major opposition parties. They have always supported the government. They never tried to unite the opposition,” he said. “Therefore, I announce that from today onwards, the JUI-F cannot go together with the opposition.”

Later, his party colleague Maulana Haideri regretted that the two major opposition parties had never consulted them on key matters and if matters continued in the same way “it will be difficult for us to go together”.

The speeches by the two JUI-F senators provided an opportunity to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) members to take the opposition to task over its announcement about launching an anti-government movement.

PTI’s Faisal Javed said on the one hand Maulana Fazlur Rehman was announcing that they would come out on the roads against the government with other opposition parties and on the other hand, his brother (Ataur Rehman) had announced parting of ways with the opposition alliance.

Senator Javed recalled that the PPP and PML-N had not supported the JUI-F when it had staged a sit-in in Islamabad in October last year. He said the PPP and the PML-N leaders went to the container of Maulana Sahib only to have “selfies” and the sit-in was only attended by the students of religious seminaries.

He said the people had rejected the narrative of the JUI-F regarding rigging in the last elections and economic situation in the country.

Senator Javed also targeted the PPP and PML-N in his speech by alleging that those who had been in politics because of military dictators like Gen Ayub Khan and Gen Ziaul Haq were today terming the present regime “the selected government”.

After the passage of the bills in Senate, PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PPP’s Sherry Rehman lashed out at the government over its mishandling of the whole issue. They also criticised the government for trying to create a wrong impression about the opposition, by claiming that they had made their support to the FATF-related bills conditional to the government’s support to their proposed changes in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Ordinance.

Bilawal’s presser

While speaking at a news conference in the evening, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said the government was making even those legislations controversial which could have been passed easily. He said the government had “an undemocratic behaviour”.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari alleged that the government, by using the excuse of FATF, wanted to bring a legislation through which it could make any citizen go missing for six months. “The PPP could not allow this because our stance has been for democracy and basic human rights,” he said.

He said the government wanted to get dictatorial powers using the backdoor but the PPP would never allow this to happen.

The PPP chairman made it clear that FATF legislation had nothing to do with the NAB legislation. “They are two different issues,” he said.

The business community, he said, had met the army chief and their narrative was that NAB and business could not go together. He said after the Supreme Court’s verdict, NAB and democracy could not go together.

In response to a question, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said all the opposition parties together would decide the future course of action against the government.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2020