Responding to intriguing questions being raised from right and left, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made a strong assertion of parliamentary supremacy in the National Assembly on Thursday, declaring that all state organs, including the military, were answerable to parliament and none could claim to be “a state within the state”.
His sharp comments in the lower house — as well as in a speech earlier in connection with the birthday of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah — followed some dire speculations relating to a defence ministry reply to a Supreme Court query and some challenging remarks by opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan about the state of the government’s control over the military.
“All institutions of the country are answerable to parliament and nobody is above law,” the prime minister said at the fag-end of his second intervention in the house during the day that was greeted by a standing ovation from the treasury benches and supportive statements from allied parties.
The obvious provocation was some divergent interpretations of a two-paragraph letter sent by the defence secretary to the Supreme Court registrar stating that his ministry “only exercises administrative control over the Pakistan Army and the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and it does not exercise any operational control over these organisations”.
This was not a new position taken by the ministry, stated even by Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar in a speech to the National Assembly some time back, but had been reiterated apparently to support the ministry’s contention in its letter dated Dec 16 that it had “no knowledge, interaction or information worth submission” in the court vis-a-vis replies submitted by former ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani and an American businessman of Pakistani origin, Mansoor Ijaz, about a controversial anti-army memorandum sent by Mr Mansoor in May to the then US military chief.
Chaudhry Nisar said media reports about the ministry’s letter indicated the army General Headquarters and ISI were not under the government’s control and blamed Mr Gilani’s government for bringing the situation to this pass.
But the prime minister rejected this assertion, saying no organ of the state could say “I am a state within the state” and, in a reference to his position as the chief executive representing parliament, added: “Decision-making is done only by parliament.”
He recalled his oft-repeated statement that he had made the military leadership accountable to parliament as had happened in military briefings given to joint sittings of the lower and upper houses, including last held after the May 2 US commando raid that killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden at his Abbottabad hideout, and said “they are answerable to parliament” and that any statement to the contrary could be a “misunderstanding”.
In his earlier speech at an exhibition of rare photographs and papers of the Quaid-i-Azam organised by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts, the prime minister claimed credit for bringing unity in the country in support of the army’s fight against terrorism and said:
“Therefore, my army, my military is disciplined and follows the Constitution of the country.
“If some individuals think they are not under the government, they are mistaken. They are under the government and they will remain under the government because we are the elected, chosen representatives of the people of Pakistan.”
In emphasising the government-military cooperation, Mr Gilani referred to parliamentary support for anti-terrorism operations, support to the security establishment after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and the anti-Osama raid, and a strong position taken on the recent Nato attack on two border posts in Mohmand tribal area that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, as well as the doubling of military salaries, and said: “We have enhanced the image of the military… and they know what were the issues under (former president) Gen Pervez Musharraf and what are issues now.”
But the prime minister appeared piqued over objections being raised over the number of Pakistani visas issued to American intelligence personnel in connection with a probe of the Osama affair. “Now they are asking about how those visas were issued and we ask on what visa he (Osama) had come here?”
In both his speeches, Mr Gilani spoke of “conspiracies” being hatched to “pack up” his government and said there would be “no use sitting in this house if we cannot protect the interests of the people”.
Chaudhry Nisar reiterated PML-N’s position to stand by the government against any undemocratic move to topple it -- contrary to the past tradition of opposition parties seeking GHQ’s help against a government -- and, while criticising the government for allowing what he called a bad situation to develop, said all was not lost and there was still time for the government to “mend itself and control the situation”.
Earlier, the prime minister informed the house that an inquiry had shown that a government reply to a question in the last session had wrongly stated that 30,000 pounds had been paid to PML-N leader Javed Hashmi for medical treatment abroad and offered his regrets for the error over which some members of the opposition party had tabled a privilege motion.
The sitting, which ended with a six-day adjournment, was also marked by criticism of intelligence agencies from almost all parties for allegedly threatening telephone calls made to an anchor of a television channel and a token walkout by journalists from the press gallery before the house authorised Speaker Fehmia Mirza to constitute a special committee to probe the matter.
A motion moved by PPP chief whip Khurshid Ahmed Shah and adopted by the house said the committee, likely to be headed by an opposition lawmaker, would have 15 days to make a report.
Chaudhry Nisar had said his party was ready to chair the committee which would consist of members from all parties in the house.