ISLAMABAD: The combined opposition that ended its boycott of parliamentary proceedings on Tuesday was cut down to an eight-party group after the MQM pulled out, citing differences on a number of issues.
But rather than attending private members’ day at the National Assembly, leaders from opposition parties spent the day shuttling between their chambers and the office of the speaker.
They held discussions over an enlarged questionnaire, prepared in the wake of the prime minister’s speech to the house, as well as the government’s offer to engage with the opposition on the terms of reference (ToR) for a proposed inquiry commission on the Panamagate scandal.
As a result, the business of the house suffered and several agenda items — moved by members of the opposition — had to be dropped or deferred.
MQM exits nine-party opposition alliance; govt, opposition to meet in speaker’s chamber today
Announcing an end to the opposition’s boycott, Syed Khursheed Shah said that they had demanded the PM’s presence in parliament, so once that happened, they could not “run from house”.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi claimed that it was the opposition’s boycott that forced the PM back to the house. “Since the PM couldn’t answer the seven questions we posed, we rejected his speech.”
He said the PM, in his speech on Monday, had called for the formation of a committee to address the ToR issue and that the National Assembly speaker had invited Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to meet the opposition, but Mr Dar did not show up.
However, towards the end of the day, sources in the National Assembly said that the speaker had contacted the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and invited the opposition to a meeting at his chambers on Wednesday afternoon.
There, sources said, both sides would discuss the modalities and propose names for inclusion in the parliamentary committee on the Panamagate issue.
“The PM’s speech raised several new questions. It is also possible that more questions may arise in the future,” Aitzaz Ahsan said, referring to the 70-question document that was released to the media on Tuesday.
When asked if he had any hopes that the government — that had been unable to satisfy the opposition on their initial seven questions — would answer these fresh queries, Mr Ahsan warned that “the people would decide” if no response was forthcoming.
The new questionnaire, which is divided into eight sections, contains very specific queries on a number of allegations that have been levelled at the Sharif family in the past.
These include: the alleged use of hawala dealers by the Sharif family; the offshore companies owned by the family and their associates; money laundering; transferring of laundered money into offshore accounts; ostensible and benami properties and companies of the Sharif family and the misappropriation of a loan from Faysal Bank.
The questionnaire includes details of remittances supposedly sent to various members of the Sharif family, a breakdown of fund transfers allegedly made from fictitious accounts in Switzerland, Riyadh and the British Virgin Islands to members of the Sharif family.
The questions also include references to individuals who allegedly acted as frontmen for the Sharif family, such as Javed Kayani — said to be the nephew of one of the PM’s close friends — and the PM’s first cousin, Khalid Siraj.
Senator Saeed Ghani told Dawn that many of these questions had already been formulated before the PM’s speech, but some were added afterwards in light of the revelations made in his speech.
MQM parts ways
Although there was no formal announcement to this effect, MQM members could be seen participating in house business as usual even before the boycott ended. But it was their absence from the meeting of opposition leaders that hinted that all was not well in the combined opposition’s ranks.
When asked about the MQM’s quiet exit from the opposition camp, Mr Ahsan obliquely noted that the party made its “own decisions”, and it was expected that they might even “change their minds”.
MQM’s Ali Raza Abidi told Dawn that the decision to leave the nine-party opposition group was driven primarily by three factors. “We stood with the opposition, but they did not stand with us on our grievances,” he said, referring to the recent death of Aftab Ahmed while in Rangers custody, the action against party workers in Hyderabad and the disappearance of a number of key party members.
He also said that the attitude of the joint opposition seemed to be non-serious, as they looked like wanting to prolong the mess around Panamagate, rather than settle it.