Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) took pains to use the National Assembly on Wednesday to disavow a reported threat by party chief Nawaz Sharif to again use military courts in Sindh if he came to power, because Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had used the same forum a day earlier to berate the former prime minister for the alleged remarks.

But opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who issued the disclaimer on what he called “full mandate” of his party and its leader, said Mr Sharif had not talked of using military courts again while speaking at a party meeting in Karachi on Monday, though he said “non-conventional measures” could be taken, if needed, to maintain law and order in the port city — to be challenged by a minister who asked what else those “non-conventional steps” could be.

The prime minister had told the assembly on Tuesday, during a heated discussion over demands for creating new provinces, that he was pained by the statement attributed to Mr Sharif to set up military courts in Sindh as the PML-N government did for some time during its 1997-99 government before the move was voided by the Supreme Court.

Taking the floor in the absence of the prime minister, Chaudhry Nisar first objected to Mr Gilani's use of the assembly forum to criticise a leader who was not a member of the house and then said he had the relevant excerpts of his party leader's speech that showed he had only explained circumstances at the time when military courts were set up mainly in Karachi and added: “Nowhere it was said that 'if we have government in the future, we will set up military courts'.”

The opposition leader explained how the last PML-N cabinet decided by majority to use military courts in Karachi at the time despite disagreement by him and some unspecified colleagues and a law drafted in consultation with the judge advocate general at the army GHQ and said that his party's government had accepted the Supreme Court ruling against the arrangement to the letter.

He said his party wanted “all institutions” to be subordinate to the civilian authority and every institution to work within its sphere as provided by the Constitution.

“We are not in favour of any military courts or military actions… unless authorised by parliament,” he said and added: “When we accepted the Supreme Court decision then, how can we support (the same course) when we are in opposition.”

Chaudhry Nisar also blasted the prime minister for the gusto he displayed in supporting the demand for a new Seraiki province in southern Punjab while speaking on a resolution tabled by the government-allied Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

He questioned MQM's bona fides in calling for new provinces in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from where the Karachi-based party had no parliamentary representation. Though he said the PML-N was not opposed to new provinces, including the proposed Hazara province in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but said the demand must come from parties representing those areas and should be entertained on administrative rather than linguistic grounds.

Chaudhry Nisar said his party wanted formation of a commission to consider justification of new provinces and challenged the coalition government to prove its sincerity to the cause by using its present two-thirds majority in the two houses of parliament to get a constitutional amendment bill passed -- though “we will not support it” -- to provide for new provinces.

The prime minister came to the house after the opposition leader had left but did not speak on his criticism, which was answered mainly by the chief whip of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Religious Affairs Minister, Khursheed Ahmed Shah, who also called upon the Supreme Court to take a suo motu notice of the previous PML-N government's responsibility for the present power shortages by hounding out private independent power producers contracted by an earlier PPP government.

The MQM did not object to Chaudhry Nisar's attacks on the party, whose resolution demanding the creation of a Seraiki province in Punjab and Hazara province in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is due to be taken up for a debate on Thursday.

Before adjourning until 10am on Thursday, the house adopted a bill, already passed by the Senate, with two PML-N amendments, to bring the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974, in conformity with the Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act.

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