NA postpones briefing of parliamentary leaders by military officials amid opposition boycott

Updated 10 Nov 2020

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In this file photo, opposition leaders address the media after the first Pakistan Democratic Movement meeting. — DawnNewsTV/File
In this file photo, opposition leaders address the media after the first Pakistan Democratic Movement meeting. — DawnNewsTV/File

A crucial meeting of parliamentary leaders in the National Assembly and Senate called by NA Speaker Asad Qaiser for Wednesday (tomorrow) in which they were to be briefed by "military officials on the current issues of national security" was cancelled on Tuesday amid the opposition's boycott.

"The session of parliamentary leaders in the National Assembly and Senate under National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Nov 11 [has been] postponed," the NA Secretariat said via a tweet.

"There would have been a briefing on national security in the session. The NA Secretariat has issued the notice of postponement of the session."

Sources in the government earlier told Dawn that the main objective of the briefing was to make an effort to develop a national consensus on granting "provisional provincial status" to strategically located Gilgit-Baltistan.

Though there was no official confirmation from the government or the army’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the sources said it was expected that Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Faiz Hameed would conduct the briefing.

The Azad Jammu and Kashmir government, headed by the PML-N, had some reservations over the move to grant the provisional status of the province to GB, the sources said, adding that in the meeting efforts would be made to address their concerns.

The list of those invited for the briefing also contained the names of AJK President Masood Khan, AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider, GB Governor Raja Jalal Maqpoon and GB Caretaker Chief Minister Mir Afzal.

A day earlier, the country’s two major opposition parties — the PML-N and the PPP — declared that they had not yet decided about participation in the briefing, hinting at a possible boycott of the event.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information secretary of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) — an alliance of 11 opposition parties — announced the PDM's decision to not participate in the NA speaker's session.

He said that PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had made the decision after consulting with all the parties that are part of the alliance. "The government has completely failed at controlling inflation and the problems faced by the people. The government's failure on every front has become a real danger to national security," the statement said.

"The speaker has failed at conducting the National Assembly according to rules and parliamentary traditions. The NA speaker is constantly suppressing the opposition's voice. The functions of the state are being run while violating the Constitution. No meaningful discussion can be held in these conditions," it added.

The opposition members who were invited for the meeting are PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Senator Sherry Rehman, Khawaja Asif and Mushahidullah Khan of the PML-N, Balochistan National Party chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal and his party senator Jehanzeb Jamaldini, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq, Amir Haider Hoti and Sitara Ayaz of the Awami National Party, Asad Mahmood and Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, Mir Kabeer Shahi of the National Party and Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.

Previous cancellations

The NA speaker had to previously cancel the parliamentary leaders’ meeting he had arranged on September 28 on the upcoming GB elections after the opposition parties announced that they would not become part of any parliamentary committee under him for his alleged biased conduct during the joint sitting of parliament on September 16.

The opposition parties had also condemned Qaiser's move to convene the meeting, saying the speaker and the federal government had no role in the elections for the GB Legislative Assembly.

This was not the first time that such a briefing was arranged for parliamentary leaders on the GB issue and a previous such gathering had stirred a political controversy when Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed disclosed that on one hand the opposition leaders were targeting the army in their speeches and on the other hand, they had been holding secret meetings with the military leadership.