ISLAMABAD: The schism within the opposition’s ranks was exposed on Thursday when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf openly opposed the inclusion of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in a parliamentary committee on Panamagate on the floor of the National Assembly.
Ordinarily, when one side of the house has to make a decision — in this case, over the membership of the proposed committee that would iron out the terms of reference (ToR) for the Panamagate commission — it is conveyed to the house after exhaustive discussion among the stakeholders concerned.
But on Thursday, despite the government’s best efforts, PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi did not budge from his stance that MQM members could not be forcibly thrust upon the combined opposition.
At the outset, Law Minister Zahid Hamid had moved a motion envisaging the formation of a parliamentary committee to “consider various options regarding fora and allied matters for inquiring into… the controversy over the Panama Papers and other reports in the media related to (1) offshore companies; (2) transfer from Pakistan of funds originating from corruption, commissions or kickbacks; and (3) written off bank loans.”
Resolution on 12-member Panamagate committee passed, then amended on PTI’s insistence; NA adopts 22nd amendment
The version of the motion that was passed called for eight nominees each from both the government and the opposition — a departure from the agreement reached at a meeting between both sides in the speaker’s chambers a day earlier.
The issue came up when Syed Khursheed Shah noted the discrepancy and said that since the opposition had not reached a decision on the matter, the number of members from both sides should be reverted to six a side.
But Mr Qureshi would have none of it. “We met at [the speaker’s] chambers for three hours [on Wednesday], which ended with a resolution that bears the signatures of [all opposition parties]. We will not accept this amended resolution; bring back the one we all signed,” he thundered.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar tried his best to placate the furious Mr Qureshi by explaining that he had been approached by Farooq Sattar, who made a case for the MQM’s inclusion the previous night. “When parties with one or two members can be represented in the parliamentary committee, why not the MQM, which has 25 members in the National Assembly and several senators in the upper house,” Mr Dar reasoned.
Even as he was saying this, Mr Qureshi’s negative body language forced him to back down, saying, “If the opposition wants to retain the number of committee members at six, we have no issue. But we must be judicious.”
But the more the speaker or government ministers tried to smooth over the issue, the more riled up PTI members became. “Don’t make this non-issue an issue and let’s move forward,” the speaker said, adding that this was, at best, “a misunderstanding and nothing more”.
But Mr Qureshi became even more belligerent in his opposition to the MQM’s inclusion, prompting Syed Asif Hasnain to ask the PTI plainly what reservations they had with his party.
The way that senior government ministers, including Mr Dar and Khawaja Saad Rafique, rushed to the MQM’s defence provided more fuel for PTI’s fire. From the press gallery, the government’s frustration with this minor sticking point was clearly visible, and their frantic efforts to placate both the MQM and the PTI indicated that they had more at stake than meets the eye.
Eventually, the government amended the motion passed earlier to reflect the original agreement between both sides, i.e. with the total number of members down to 12. The speaker even invited both sides, including the MQM, to his chambers to iron out the issue.
But when the time came for the meeting, only government and MQM members arrived at the speaker’s chambers.
Talking to Dawn after the session, MQM MNA Ali Raza Abidi said that they kept waiting for the opposition to show up, but the meeting could not take place as the speaker had to leave for another engagement.
“Now, the opposition has decided to sort out the matter amongst themselves, but we expect that a senior opposition parliamentary leader may be willing to forego his place on the committee in favour of an MQM member,” he said.
After all was said and done, the National Assembly also managed to pass the 22nd constitutional amendment after both sides of the house were able to scrape together 241 members, satisfying the constitutional requirement that an amendment can only be passed by a two-thirds majority.
The report on the amendment was also laid before the Senate on Thursday and the upper house will be voting on the amendment today (Friday).