As families of the Bhoja Air plane crash victims mourn their loved ones, the government and opposition continue to squabble over a commission set up to probe the crash.
While the government insisted in the National Assembly on Wednesday that the commission, announced by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, fulfils the criteria for being a judicial body, the opposition expressed scepticism over its composition.
The bickering between the government and the opposition culminated in an unannounced boycott by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) after Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira resorted to personal attacks.
After the departure of PML-N, Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khursheed Shah invited the opposition to suggest names of commission members even if they were sitting judges, and said that the government was ready to address the issue and would have no objection to setting up a commission with consensus.
Earlier, Prime Minister Gilani, who attended the proceedings for a brief period, said that his decision was taken in the light of international practice while responding to the opposition’s concerns.
“I was asked by the families of victims (during a visit to the hospital) for an inquiry,” the premier said, and added “we do not need to be apologetic over the issue.”
Later on Law Minister Farooq H Naek justified the commission was judicial by citing the Commission Act and the integrity of its members, saying, “Every judge has taken oath under the PCO at some point.”
In addition, he said, the families of victims had not raised any objection over the commission’s composition and there should be no political point scoring over the issue.
But the justification could not satisfy the opposition leader who once again said: “The so-called commission cannot be termed a judicial commission since it has been set up to cover up the facts of the crash.”
To counter the law minister, Nisar said that the judges nominated for the commission had faced contempt of court earlier. He also questioned the government over the AirBlue plane crash report, saying it had not been released.
“We will not participate in the debate if you are not ready to constitute a national commission with consensus,” Nisar warned. He also suggested that a timeframe be defined for the investigation and relatives of victims be taken into confidence.
In response, Kaira said the opposition had indulged in point scoring over the issue. “We are not here to please anyone,” he said rejecting the opposition’s proposal of a new commission, adding that “It was a purely technical job and a timeline cannot be set for it.”
The moment he took his seat, Chaudhry Nisar rose up and said the information minister was justifying his newly-attained portfolio but “we are not here to attend lectures.”
Though Khursheed Shah and others tried to pacify Kaira, the infuriated information minister then rose immediately himself, reciprocating: “I am well aware about the conduct of every member of the opposition and how they play politics.” He said Nisar’s comments against him were “disgusting”.
In the meanwhile, the opposition boycotted the proceedings without any announcement.
Earlier, the opposition and government both tried to take credit for initiating debate over the issue in the lower house, which came into session without having a Business Advisory Committee Meeting (during which the agenda of the house is set). With no agenda set, the proceedings started with a walkout by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which insisted on a debate instead of the question hour.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2012.