ISLAMABAD - In a surprising move, the government Wednesday offered an olive branch to opposition in the Senate inviting it to develop consensus on ‘minimum common agenda’ regarding making appointments in the ECP, legislation on tenure of COAS and accountability process.

Federal Minister for Science & Technology Fawad Chaudhry, who is otherwise known for his aggressive tone against the opposition, stunned many in the house by making an offer of reconciliation to opposition on the first sitting of the winter session. To start with the first day of new calendar year, the opposition and the government should ‘devise a minimum common agenda’ on making appointments of the members of the Election Commission of Pakistan as well as the chief election commissioner and to legislate on the process of accountability, and tenure and extension of the chief of army staff (COAS), the minister said.

The otherwise firebrand member of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet said that there was need to make an accord on at least these four issues because they understood that consensus couldn’t be developed 100 percent as different parties represented the parliament. “The bitterness between government and opposition on fundamental matters should remain but there is need to develop consensus on at least these issues,” he said, adding, that they had the ability to do so.

In Senate, Fawad invites Opp to develop consensus on ‘minimum common agenda’

“Our country has four institutions, the two including the government and the opposition are in the parliament and the other two — the army and the judiciary — are outside the parliament,” the federal minister said, adding, that the Constitution described a balance of powers within them. “When we are entering the new year, we are seeing that there is a clash-like situation between these institutions. The government and opposition are at poles apart and can reach an agreement on a single matter,” he said and urged the need of a consensus. “All these four institutions are neither guilty in all matters nor innocent,” he said, adding, that all institutions had made mistakes including the government, opposition, army and the judiciary in past.

“The important responsibility falls on the government and the opposition,” he said. The minister explained that there were issues the institutions were facing including appointment of judges in judiciary. About a lawmaker’s concern over open criticism of judiciary by Prime Minister Imran Khan, he said the judiciary wanted to judge the parliamentarians on touchstone of Articles 62 and 63 (truthfulness and trustworthy) but it itself was not ready to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the parliament. “We say hang General (retd) Pervez Musharraf but give protection to PCO judges,” he said, giving a reference to those judges who took oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order. He said office of the prime minister also demanded respect within the Constitution. 

“We cannot afford to miss the opportunity. We want to start new year different with that of the outgoing year. He appealed to the opposition that their purpose should be to give a better future to 60 percent youth of a country with 220 million people. “If we did not resolve issues and quarreled with each other, our future will slip from our own hands,” he warned. Earlier, former Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani speaking in the house questioned government’s move to amend accountability law and said that proposed amendments had excluded the two classes — business community and the bureaucrats — of the purview of the anti-corruption watchdog. “The judiciary and the army have already their own mechanisms of accountability,” he said and added: “If NAB (National Accountability Bureau) is there only for politicians?”

“If anybody has to be tried by its own process, let the parliamentarians be tried by its own process (of parliament),” Rabbani said amid thumping of desks by the lawmakers. He said they never demanded to exclude these two classes, business community and the bureaucracy, from the process of accountability of NAB.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stalwart demanded an across the board accountability to make it meaningful. He urged to bring all institutions under one umbrella of accountability law.  Speaking on COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s service extension issue, Rabbani said PTI government due to its ‘incapability and incapacity’ had taken a national institution (army) to an ‘embarrassing position’.

“What kind of a government is this which cannot properly issue three or four notifications?” he said, urging the government to let the parliament and the Senate play their constitutional roles.

On decision of special court against General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, he said it was surprising that federal government, who had initiated the case against him, now wanted to withdraw it. The Parliamentary Leader of PPP in Senate Sherry Rehman said the government convened the Senate session only at a short notice of less than 24 hours against the tradition of at least 48 hours prior notice. She suspected that the ruling party wanted to get bills passed in opposition’s absence.

Pakistan Muslim league - Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Lt-General (retd) Abdul Qayyum said the parliament basically had three roles including legislation, representation and oversight of the executive. “Unfortunately, the present parliament and the democracy have no good reputation,” he regretted. He pointed out that government had not summoned the Senate for the last four months.

He demanded that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi should come and answer questions of the senators on the latest developments including casualties on the Line of Control as ceasefire violations by India were continuing. He said what was happening with the Muslims in India should have been condemned.

Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Sirajul Haq and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam - Fazl (JUI-F) Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri slammed the government for sky rocketing prices of utilities including that of petroleum, electricity, gas, and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) with the start of new year.