As tensions flared again on Tuesday over the newly-convened commission on new provinces, the government threatened to steamroller ahead with its plans with or without the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) while claiming that it had enough consensual support for fulfilling its objectives.
The government scoffed at the PML-N’s move to boycott Tuesday’s maiden meeting of the commission, insisting that the party’s absence made no difference.
“There will be no deadlock even if the PML-N does not participate in the process and if the Punjab Assembly does not nominate its members (for the commission on the creation of new provinces),” Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah, who is also the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP’s) chief whip in the NA, told the media after the session.
Shah dismissed the notion that the opposition had virtually gone unrepresented as a consequence of the PML-N boycott. As proof, Shah cited the name of Senator Ghafoor Haideri of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) as being the eyes and ears of the opposition at the inaugural meeting.
The minister, however, pointed out that if there were any misgivings, on the part of the opposition, the PML-N could vote against the commission’s proposals when they come up before the National Assembly in the form of a report.
Additionally, Shah pointed out that the commission’s members had been tasked with convincing the PML-N to participate in the process.
When asked whether the commission would manage to finish the task of carving out provinces, Shah said: “The next assembly will do the job if it is not done now.”
The minister rejected outright the PML-N’s objections on the composition of the commission. “If the commission is renamed following objections of the PML-N, then every single standing committee will meet the same fate.”
Brushing aside PML-N’s allegations that the government had not consulted the opposition over the commission, he said that the leaders of the opposition in the National Assembly and Senate were formally asked for nominations. While Senator Ishaq Dar nominated one member, no response was received from Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan – only after which the speaker nominated opposition members herself. “Rejection of nominations (for the commission) is like disgracing Parliament,” Shah added.
Earlier, nine out of 12 nominated members of the commission attended the session, since all three members from the PML-N – including Senator Rafiq Rajwana, Tehmina Daultana and Saud Majeed – remained conspicuously absent.
During the meeting, Senator Farhatullah Babar, who belongs to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, was made chairman of the commission. PPP’s Jamshed Dasti had proposed Babar as chairman and was seconded by other members.
Babar said that the commission had taken two key decisions during the first session. First, the commission will request members of the PML-N to participate in the proceedings. Second, the commission will meet again today (Wednesday) for framing and adopting draft rules to increase efficiency.
Babar made it clear that the commission was mandated with compiling a report on the creation of new provinces in Punjab only, since no other province had made such a request. “This proposal (the passage of two resolutions) has come from Punjab itself; therefore, the work of the commission is limited to this province alone,” he added.
When asked why the commission’s members did not only consist of representatives from Punjab in this case, Babar said, “When you talk about creating a new province, it requires amending the Constitution. And the amendment of the Constitution cannot be handed over to any one province or political party.”
The commission was constituted by the National Assembly speaker on the directions of President Asif Ali Zardari to act upon resolutions passed by the lower house of parliament and the Punjab Assembly calling for a new ‘Janoobi Punjab’ (South Punjab) province and the revival of Bahawalpur’s status as a province.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2012.
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