ISLAMABAD: The government as well as the opposition have out of the way rewarded the independents and allies who had supported them in the election of the Senate chairman and nomination of the opposition leader, respectively, by making them chairmen of the committees of the upper house of parliament.
A careful analysis of the list of the chairmen of all the 39 standing and functional committees of the Senate shows that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had accommodated five senators, out of the six, who had all of a sudden supported Yousuf Raza Gilani for the office of the opposition leader on the last day by making them chairmen of the committees.
The PPP had also given the chairmanship of committees to the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Awami National Party (ANP), which had only one senator each in the house, despite the fact that according to the agreed formula, the chairmanship of a committee is offered to a party on every three senators.
Besides this, independent senator from ex-Fata Shamim Afridi, who had joined the PPP only a few weeks before the Senate elections, has also been made chairman of the committee on privatisation.
Similarly, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has also given the chairmanship of the committees to its allies, including the PML-Functional and PML-Q, both having only one senator each.
PTI gets chairmanship of key Senate committees taking advantage of rift within opposition
The PML-N, the other major opposition party, has also given the chairmanship to Prof Sajid Mir of Jamiat Ahle Hadith and to two JUI-F senators from its quota.
A committee chairman enjoys perks and privileges, including an official car and office and staff.
Interestingly, all the four independent senators from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) are now posted on key positions, with Mirza Muhammad Afridi as Senate deputy chairman and three others becoming chairmen of various committees.
Dilawar Khan, who had been elected senator on a PML-N ticket but supported Mr Gilani for the office of the opposition leader with five other independents who had been sitting on the treasury benches, has become chairman of the standing committee on defence production.
Similarly, Kauda Babar has been elected as chairman of the committee on information technology and telecommunications. Independent senator Hidayatullah Khan has been made chairman of the committee on aviation, Naseebullah Bazai as chairman of the committee on poverty alleviation and Hilalur Rehman as chairman of the committee on states and frontier regions.
Mushtaq Ahmed, the lone JI senator, has been ‘elected’ as chairman of the functional committee on devolution and ANP’s lone senator Hidaytullah as chairman of the standing committee on housing and works.
According to the agreed formula, the opposition parties were to get chairmanship of 22 committees whereas the ruling alliance was to have chairmanship of 17 committees. However, the sources said, the ruling PTI later offered two more committees to the opposition.
Sources in the opposition told Dawn that the leaderships of both the PML-N and PPP were upset over losing the chairmanship of three key committees, particularly the committee on human rights, and the two parties were now blaming each other for the loss.
On the other hand, the ruling PTI took maximum advantage of internal wrangling within the opposition ranks and the party was jubilant over getting the chairmanship of the committees on law and justice, human rights and interior, which were previously with the opposition parties.
PTI’s Mohsin Aziz has been elected as chairman of the committee on interior whereas Waleed Iqbal is now heading the HR committee.
Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz, while talking to Dawn, confirmed that his party was only interested in getting the chairmanship of the committee on law and justice, but happy to get the chairmanship of the other two key committees at the end of the day. He said the PTI was interested in the law and justice committee because the government was planning to bring major electoral, judicial and other reforms in the coming days.
Mr Faraz, who was part of the negotiations between the government and the opposition on formation of the committees, said they had clearly told Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani that the PTI would hold talks with Leader of Opposition Yousuf Raza Gilani, and not with the other opposition group led by PML-N’s Azam Nazeer Tarar.
When contacted, PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar said the opposition had got the human rights committee and the PPP wanted to chair it. However, he said, during internal redistribution among opposition parties, the PML-N specifically asked Mr Gilani that it wanted to head the HR committee since the National Assembly’s HR committee was already with the PPP.
Mr Babar said the PML-N told them that they had nominated Mushahid Hussain as chairman of the human rights committee.
“Till morning of the election day, Mushahid was the PML-N’s nominee and his name duly circulated as such. However, an hour before formal election, the PML-N traded it with the treasury for the chairmanship of defence committee and nominating Mushahid to it. Whether Mushahid did it on his own or he was asked by his party only they can tell. But one thing is clear: PPP was not informed of this decision and was shocked,” he added.
Mr Babar said the then mounted an unsuccessful bid to reclaim the committee when Sherry Rehman and Raza Rabbani even offered to trade in the inter-provincial coordination committee, but failed.
“The HR committee thus going to the government is a serious setback to rights agenda in the country. Most human rights violations are the result of misuse, no-use and excessive use of power by government bodies and officials. How can the government itself be allowed to sit in evaluating human rights and redressing excesses caused by its own institutions?” Mr Babar asked.
Worse still, he said, the status of the HR committee had also been changed from a functional committee to that of a standing committee. He said a standing committee dealt with only one designated ministry whereas the scope of a functional committee was not limited to any one ministry and it extended to wherever its functions namely rights violations were involved regardless of which particular ministry or which location.
Sources in the PML-N said the party leadership was also upset over the development. A PML-N senator, on condition of anonymity, told Dawn that there was a resentment within the party as it was Senator Mushahid Hussain who had traded the HR committee with the government to get the chairmanship of the defence committee without taking the party leadership into confidence.
The senator said the party had decided to raise the issue with the Senate chairman as to how the list provided by the party’s parliamentary leader Azam Nazeer Tarar was altered.
Another PML-N senator, however, blamed the PPP for the fiasco. He said that in fact the PPP was not willing to give the chairmanship of the HR committee to Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar again as he was no more in the good books of the party leadership. Moreover, he said, both Sherry Rehman and Mushahid Hussain were interested in the chairpersonship of the foreign affairs committee. He said that since Ms Rehman managed to get the foreign affairs committee’s chairpersonship because of her position in the party and relations with the government, Mushahid Hussain was upset over the development.
Mr Babar, however, denied that the party was not interested in giving the chairmanship of the HR committee to Mr Khokhar and claimed that the leadership was willing to nominate him again for the office keeping in view his performance.
When contacted, Mushahid Hussain refused to comment on the development and simply said that “facts are known to all [in the party]”.
Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2021