ISLAMABAD: In the midst of the country ‘s increasing political tension, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Monday summoned a central meeting of parliamentary leaders in the National Assembly and the Senate tomorrow (Wednesday) to brief “intelligence Military officials on existing national security concerns.”
According to an official statement, the Secretariat of the National Assembly has provided official letters to all the parliamentary leaders inviting them to attend the meeting to be held in Committee Room No 2 of the Parliament House Military .
Sources in the government told Dawn that the key goal of the briefing was to make an attempt to establish a national consensus on the strategically positioned Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) being given “provisional provincial status.”
Although there was no formal confirmation from the government or the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) of the army, the sources said it was anticipated that the briefing would be performed by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed.
The AJK cabinet, headed by the PML-N, had some reservations about the decision to award the province’s provisional status to GB, the sources said, adding that attempts will be made to resolve their concerns in the meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
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Speaking to the participants of GB’s 73rd Independence Day Azadi Parade on Nov 1, Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that the government had agreed to give the province’s provisional status to the city in compliance with UN resolutions.
The names of AJK President Masood Khan, AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider, GB Governor Raja Jalal Maqpoon and GB Chief Minister Mir Afzal are also on the list of those invited to the briefing.
Opposition to finalise plan today
In the meantime, the two key opposition parties in the region, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), announced that they had not yet agreed to engage in the briefing, indicating that the event could be boycotted.
We have already declared that we would boycott every meeting with the speaker of the National Assembly. The group claims that in the briefing it does not join. The final decision in this regard, however, will be taken after consultation with the other Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) groups,’ said Khurram Dastagir Khan, vice-president of PML-N and MNA, while talking to Dawn.
Mr. Khan said that the parliamentary leader of PML-N in the National Assembly, Khawaja Asif, will today (Tuesday) meet with the representatives of other PDM member parties to make a final decision.
Similarly, when approached, PML-N General Secretary Ahsan Iqbal said the party had so far been unsure about its role in the briefing. They were currently, he said, busy running the GB election campaign. Since PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was also in the GB, he said they would therefore have an opportunity to resolve the issue.
When approached, PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who is also the official spokesman for Mr. Bhutto-Zardari, said that when they returned to a region with internet access, they had come to know about the speaker ‘s invitation in the evening. He said Mr. Bhutto-Zardari had been allowed to live in the area until November 12 by the GB Supreme Appeal Court to manage the operation, and so far he had made no arrangements to return to Islamabad. He also claimed that today (Tuesday) a final decision will be taken in this regard.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Senator Sherry Rehman, Khawaja Asif and Mushahidullah Khan of the PML-N, Balochistan National Party President Sardar Akhtar Mengal and his Party Senator Jehanzeb Jamaldini, Jamaat-i-Islamic Chief Sirajul Haq, Amir Haider Hoti and Sitara Ayaz of the Awami National Party, Asad Mahmood and Maulana Abdu Abdu Abdu, are the representatives of the opposition invited to the meeting.
It should be remembered that the speaker of the National Assembly had to cancel the parliamentary leaders’ meeting he had on September 28 on the forthcoming GB elections after the opposition parties declared that during the joint parliamentary sitting on September 16, they would not become part of any parliamentary committee under him for his suspected biassed conduct.
The opposition parties have condemned the decision by the speaker to convene the conference, saying that the speaker and the federal government had no involvement in the GB Legislative Assembly elections.
This is not the first time that such a briefing on the GB issue is being arranged for the parliamentary leaders and a previous such meeting had stirred political controversy when Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced that in their speeches, on the one hand, the opposition leaders threatened the army and, on the other hand, they held secret meetings with the military chief
The minister announced that the opposition representatives, including PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Asad Mehmood, had met with the army chief and the ISI chief just days before the Multi-Party Conference of the Opposition (MPC).
“The timing of the September 16 meeting and its announcement were related by the observers to the MPC of the opposition, in which former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had bitterly attacked the Military, claiming that there was” a state in the country above the state.
The railway minister’s revelation placed the representatives of the opposition on the back foot and they explained that they had just attended the meeting because it was on national security issues. According to them, the meeting was to be kept secret under the specified ground rules.
The Minister of Railways said that the leaders of the PPP and PML-N had already told the chief of the army that they would support the decision to give GB “provisional provincial status.”
The army chief reportedly asked the political leaders at the meeting to refrain from bringing the military into political questions.
However, the PPP and PML-N leaders stated that consensus had only been achieved at the meeting that the issue would be taken up and debated after the GB elections scheduled for Nov 15.
While speaking to Dawn on condition of anonymity, a senior opposition member had said that the opposition had categorically warned the government and the military chief that any such attempt would be called a ‘pre-poll rigging’ before the elections and that they would also have to look into its repercussions as it should not disturb the stance of the country on the Kashmir dispute.
Gen Bajwa, according to the railway minister, had left it to the political leadership of the country to decide on the timing of the execution of the decision to change the constitutional status of the GB.
Sherry Rehman of the PPP later said it was a “sensitive matter” to change GB’s constitutional status as India has always made Pakistan a subject of criticism on the issue.
Dawn had been told by a key government official, who is privy to the development, that it was at the behest of the opposition parties that the government had decided to begin the process of consultations on the plan to turn the GB into a province after the region’s elections, as the opposition claimed that if such a change was undertaken now, the PTI could take political advantage of it.
Published in Dharti News, November 10th, 2020