ISLAMABAD - The Upper House of the Parliament will discuss next week the claims of former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani that he had cooperated with the then Obama administration and CIA to haunt and kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011.

The federal government in the National Assembly had already proposed a parliamentary commission to probe the claims of Haqqani that he made in the article written for the Washington Post on March 10.

Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani held permissible the two separate adjournment motions moved by PML-N Senator General (Retd) Abdul Qayyum and PTI lawmaker Mohsin Aziz on the issue and fixed these for discussion on Tuesday (March 21).  

Speaking on the motion, Senator Abdul Qayyum said the ex-ambassador through an article had confessed that he facilitated entry of CIA agents into Pakistan with the approval of the then civil government’s leadership. He said that the matter should be probed at earliest.

PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar, who is also Chairman of Special Committee of the Senate on Right to Information (RTI), presented in the house the report along with the draft of RTI law. Babar said that the draft bill was not only cut across the political divide but was also far-reaching in depth and breadth enabling citizens to access information not only about federal government departments but also about the Parliament, the courts, the NGOs that received any assistance from the government in any form.

For the first time a provision has been incorporated to end the practice of seeking blanket immunity from disclosing information in the name of national security, he said.

Universally recognised Johannesberg principles that strike a balance between considerations of national security and public good have been relied upon in ending the practice of hushing up information behind the façade of national security, he said.

Under the law reasons will have to be recorded in writing as to how considerations of security outweighed public good and even then it will be challengeable before the Information Commission, he said. Furthermore, the plea of national security will not apply if the information sought related to corruption or if the life of a citizen was in imminent and real danger.

Information about defence planning, deployment of forces and defence installations and related defence and security matters however will be exempted from disclosure.

The Bill also provides for formation of Information Commission for deciding appeals but rejects the notion that its members must be from the judiciary alone, he said.

He said that the underlying principles of the RTI Bill were ensuring maximum disclosure, minimum exemptions, the right to appeal and applicability across the board to all state institutions including even NGOs receiving government support in any form.

Willful destruction of official record with a view to withholding information from the public has been made a criminal offence carrying a jail term of two years.

Public record now includes information about transactions, acquisition and disposal of property, grant of licenses, allotments and contracts awarded by a public body to name a few, he said. It also includes noting on the files and minutes of the meetings but not before a final decision has been taken on any issue.

The Bill overrides all other laws and thus the outdated Official Secrets Act of 1923 is made redundant for purpose of withholding information.

However, Farhatullah Babar said, the real issue is not making a law but that of the culture of secrecy and of sacred cows.

Questions asked in the Senate in Musharraf days, like whether inquiry had been held in Kargil, whether defence officers declared their assets to their respective headquarters and whether there is a law under which ISI operated, were not replied on the ground that national security was at risk, he said. Now such questions cannot be swept under the carpet on the ground that it might put national security at stake.

Separately, Chairman Senate asked the government to explain in the house Tuesday the reports of killing of a Pakistani transgender allegedly in police custody in Saudi Arabia. Earlier, Senator Farhatullah Babar raised the issue in the house who said the transgender belonged to Swat KP and his family was agitating against the death in custody in Saudi Arabia. He said that although reports had surfaced some days back but he did not raise it and was awaiting more information.

He noted that it was a serious matter involving the basic right to life of Pakistani national and the least the government should do is to formally take it up with Saudi authorities and find out the facts.

“Not taking notice of the reports amounts to abdication of responsibility towards our nationals in foreign lands,” he remarked. Babar called for referring the matter to the Human Rights Committee or Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate.

He said that according to reports initially 35 Pakistani transgender had been arrested late last month out of which 29 were released while the rest are still in jail.

He said that while one respected the sovereign right of a foreign government to uphold its laws it was also our responsibility to take up the matter with the Saudi government and ensure that a Pakistani was not deprived of life unlawfully and with impunity.

The Chairman Senate directed that the verbatim record of the speech the Senator be sent to the Foreign Office with direction to clarify the issue in the Senate on Tuesday next.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 17-Mar-2017 here.