Rivals in agreement on judicial probes into thorny issues

Published March 5, 2024
PTI MNA and former speaker Asad Qaiser (L) and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari (R) speak in the NA on March 4. — DawnNewsTV
PTI MNA and former speaker Asad Qaiser (L) and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari (R) speak in the NA on March 4. — DawnNewsTV

• Bilawal endorses PTI call for inquiry into May 9; PTI-backed MNAs suggest investigation into alleged rigging, cipher issue
• Speaker intervenes after opposition riled up by PPP chief’s remarks

ISLAMABAD: Amidst fiery spee­ches, the National Assembly on Mon­­day witnessed a glimmer of hope as members sitting on the opposition and treasury benches seemed to find common ground over the formation of judicial commissions on a number of tho­r­ny issues, including alleged rigging in the Feb 8 elections, the incidents of May 9 and the cipher controversy.

While Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari endorsed the demand of PTI-backed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur to hold a judicial inquiry into the May 9 incidents, PTI-backed members came up with suggestions to form commissions to probe the alleged rigging in the general elections and the cipher case, in which former prime minister Imran Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had been convicted.

PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif also attended the sitting for a brief period before taking oath as the country’s new prime minister and attentively listened to the points raised by the members in their speeches.

The house witnessed noisy protests from opposition members over certain remarks of Mr Bhutto-Zardari and MQM’s Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. A couple of times, the protesting members from both sides came so close to each other that Speaker Ayaz Sadiq — fearing a physical scuffle — directed the lawmakers to keep their distance and remain confined within their benches to avoid any untoward situation.

“You may continue to protest, even against me, but please avoid contact with each other as it can create [an unpleasant] situation,” said the speaker.

At one point, PTI members, who had been listening to Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s speech with patience, gathered in front of the speaker’s dais and staged a noisy protest when the PPP chairman told them “to go to hell” instead of giving lectures on the Constitution and democracy, and later called them “cartoons”. The issue, however, was settled when Mr Bhutto-Zardari himself asked the speaker to expunge his remarks, stating that he should not have uttered those words.

Quorum

The newly-constituted National Assembly also saw the first adjournment of the proceedings due to a lack of quorum, which was pointed out by PPP’s Shagufta Juamani in a bid to to block the speech of firebrand PTI MNA Sher Afzal Marwat.

Deputy Speaker Ghulam Mustafa Shah, who was presiding over the sitting at that time, adjourned the sitting till Friday evening, without even ordering a headcount as the quorum, for which the presence of 84 lawmakers is required in the 336-member house, was visibly lacking.

Raid on Achakzai’s house

The day’s proceedings started with the protest by PTI’s Omer Ayub over the blackout of the opposition’s speeches in the assembly in the media and the police raid at the Quetta residence of PkMAP chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, who is also the opposition’s candidate against PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari in the upcoming presidential election.

Mr Achakzai, in his own speech, said that his house had been raided due to his speech in the National Assembly in which he had criticised the establishment’s role in politics and rigging in the elections.

In his speech, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said that he would ask Balochistan Chief Minister Sarfaraz Bugti, belonging to his own party, to enquire the matter, stating that this incident was making the upcoming presidential election controversial.

Judicial commissions

In his nearly hour-long speech, Mr Bhutto-Zardari welcomed Shehbaz Sharif’s offer for a “charter of national reconciliation and charter of economy” and “appealed” to the opposition to participate in the process.

“My advice to our colleagues would be to support us, at least where the economy is concerned,” he added. He said no single party had the mandate to make decisions on its own and the people of Pakistan had made a decision that compelled the parties to work together.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari stressed the need for carrying out judicial and electoral reforms, admitting that the PPP and the PML-N had not been able to make judicial reforms despite agreeing in the 2006 Charter of Democra­­cy. He asked the opposition “to sit with us over these two issues.”

The PPP chairman said that his party endorsed the demand of the KP chief minister to form a judicial commission to investigate the May 9 incidents on the condition that the “decision will be acceptable to all.

The PPP, he said, appealed to the prime minister to approach Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa to head the judicial commission on May 9 so that the perpetrators are punished and the innocents were released.

The PPP leader also extended support to the PTI regarding the latter’s demand for a probe into election irregularities.

Referring to the cipher case, he said every copy of the alleged cipher sent to the government by the then ambassador in the US in 2022 was accounted for, except for the one that was with the Prime Minister House. He said Imran Khan himself admitted on TV that he had lost a confidential and national security document of the government.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari, who was the country’s foreign minister at that time, said the enemy of Pakistan could crack the code which was mentioned in the cipher, and thus decipher all other ciphers.

He said the US intelligence agencies had raided the house of ex-president Trump to retrieve some confidential papers and filed a case against him.

Moreover, he said that a day after Imran Khan’s arrest, the alleged cipher was printed in an international publication.

“If you think that the people of Pakistan are fools, then you are wrong”, he said, adding: “We all know that the alleged copy of the cipher was printed in an international publication for the sake of politics and to make the corruption cases controversial in this manner.”

The PPP chairman regretted that the two past governments of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan failed to devolve the ministries that had to be transferred to the provinces by 2015 under the 18th Constitution Amendment.

He said bureaucrats sitting in the capital had been telling the rulers at the Centre that the federal government was left with nothing after giving money through the NFC Award to the provinces.

Opposition speeches

PTI MNA and former speaker Asad Qaiser in his fiery and emotional speech while condemning the raid on Mr Achakzai’s residence, declared that they did not fear such actions.

“I want to make this clear that time of fear has passed. We have come out of all situations headstrong”, he declared amid desk-thumping by the opposition members.

Mr Qaiser demanded that a judicial commission should be constituted by the SC on the cipher controversy, alleging that the judge had given the verdict against Imran Khan on gunpoint.

The former speaker further stated that a judicial commission should be formed to probe allegations of rigging in the Feb 8 polls.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2024

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