Commission on new provinces: Govt, PML-N soften stance
ISLAMABAD: On a renewed demand by the opposition PML-N for reconsideration, the government signalled its willingness in the National Assembly (NA) on Tuesday to reconstitute a parliamentary commission tasked to recommend ways to carve out two provinces out of Punjab.
But, while speaking of the government thinking, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Farooq H. Naek insisted the commission — named by the lower house speaker last month but rejected by the largest opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-N — was correctly formed within the parameters of the Constitution and relevant “rules of business” to implement demands made in separate resolutions passed by the National Assembly and the Punjab assembly.
“We are open to discussion,” he said, responding to a ranking PML-N lawmaker, Khawaja Saad Rafiq, who asked the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to consider forming anew what he called a “national commission” headed by a non-partisan person and including professionals to devise a formula for the creation of new provinces “wherever” demanded by local people rather than only for the most populous Punjab province.
“If they think new people should come, then (commission) members can be changed,” Mr Naek said, but added: “It will not be right to politicise this (issue) at this time.”
In compliance with a message, or reference, sent by President Asif Ali Zardari to comply with a majority-supported resolution of the National Assembly and two unanimous resolutions of the Punjab assembly, NA Speaker Fehmida Mirza named 12 commission members from both houses of parliament and the opposition and the ruling coalition.
She asked the Punjab assembly speaker to name two more members to the body that must recommend demarcation of a new “Junoobi (south) Punjab” province and a revived Bahawalpur province as well as allocation of resources and parliamentary seats to them.
But the commission, which elected PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar as its chairman at its first meeting on August 28, indefinitely put off its third meeting set for Friday to formulate its terms of reference after an unruly Punjab assembly session on Wednesday passed a resolution, rejecting the commission altogether and its speaker from the PML-N refused to name two members for the 14-member body.
“We don’t accept this commission,” Mr Rafiq said as he raised the matter at the fag-end of the second sitting and the first private members’ day of the new session of the NA that began on Monday.
But the member from Lahore, who often voices his party’s line in the absence of more senior members, sounded comparatively conciliatory after an earlier hard line taken by some other party spokesmen, calling for a compromise and asking the PPP “not to make it a matter of its ego”.
He said if the rival parties could reach a consensus on other major issues like the landmark Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 2010 and naming a chief election commissioner recently, the same could happen about the new provinces.
And in a reference to the tensions between the two sides, he said: “There is still some hope.”
He called for constituting a national commission to evolve a formula about the basis for creating new provinces,” without repeating a hard line taken last month by opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who had demanded at least 50 per cent representation on the commission for his party and objected to the nomination of members from the government-allied Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Awami National Party and the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F — which have no representation in the Punjab Assembly.
In explaining the rationale of the commission named by the speaker after a house authorisation, Mr Naek said the PML-N’s opposition leader in the Senate Ishaq Dar had recommended nomination of a party senator, but did not say if Chaudhry Nisar was consulted about naming three PML-N members from the lower house.
So far there has been no word about the issue of consultation from the speaker, who has not yet returned to Islamabad from Karachi after a visit abroad. However, according to Senator Babar, the speaker named the PML-N MNAs after two letters sent to Chaudhry Nisar were not unanswered and because she could not delay the formation of the commission.
In other developments in the house, which met some 100 minutes behind schedule provoking a reprimand from Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi for late-comers, Minister for Climate Change Rana Farooq Saeed acknowledged that the meteorology department’s forecast of heavy rains — more than 15 per cent than normal — for this year had proved wrong, resulting in losses to farmers in Sindh who did not cultivate vast ‘kutcha’ (riverine) areas for fear of floods.
And the minister, who said both the federal and provincial disaster management authorities had prepared for the feared floods keeping in view similar calamities over the past two years, called for prayers to God to spare farmers of a different disaster: drought.
That brought a sarcastic remark about the newly created ministry from the deputy speaker: “I think half of your ministry runs on prayers.”
However, in remarks responding to a call-attention notice from five PPP members about what they called “inaccurate and wrong predictions of the disaster management authority,” the minister said the forecast of heavy rains was made by the meteorology department controlled by the defence ministry while the disaster management authorities were responsible for providing relief.
Earlier, Riaz Fatyana of the government-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q introduced a private bill, seeking an amendment to the Political
Parties Order of 2,002 to provide for what he called “reasonable” public funding of political parties that ‘would help strengthen democracy and finance even poor and middle-class candidates to contest elections.’
The law minister said the matter needed a policy decision by the government, though he did not oppose the bill, paving the way for its
reference to the relevant standing committee.
The house is likely to begin a debate on law and order situation in the country on Wednesday — when it is to meet at 5pm — and could hear from Interior Minister Rehman Malik about what he had on Monday called conspiracies behind a recent wave of attacks on members of Shia community in various parts of the country and the charge of blasphemy brought against a minor and mentally retarded Christian girl in Islamabad.
The case of the girl, who was arrested on August 16 on a disputed allegation of burning pages of the holy Quran and remains in a judicial lock-up, and alleged excesses suffered by members of non-Muslim minority communities, echoed in the house for the second day with calls from some members from both sides of the house to guard against the misuse of the blasphemy law.
PPP member Nafisa Shah urged religious parties and Ulema to come forward to chalk out a course of action to ensure against a misuse of the law, which she said had allegedly happened in the present case after evidence that a prayer-leader of a mosque inserted torn pages from the holy Quran with other burned papers in a bag carried by the girl
A PPP Hindu member from Sindh, Khatomal Jeevan, who also complained of occupation of “our agricultural land all over Sindh”, said his community was not against the law but wanted a halt to its misuse.
“If we speak, we are killed and if we don’t, we find our conscience dead,” he said in sentimental remarks following complaints of similar excesses from another Hindu lawmaker, Dr Darshan of the PML-N from Punjab.