ISLAMABAD - As Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is chairing a crucial meeting of heads of parliamentary parties today (Friday) as part of his efforts to bring consensus on the much-awaited delimitation bill, Pakistan People’s Party on Thursday in the Senate indicated that it was ready to vote for the bill if ‘government showed some flexibility’.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan taking part in the debate on the situation arising out of the recent Faizabad sit-in of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah said that PPP would go in the meeting of parliamentary heads “with open and positive mind as it wanted to show its commitment with the constitution and federation.

“Though I cannot give commitment yet I think there would be some positive outcome of the meeting summoned by the PM but the government would have to show some flexibility,” he said adding the only demand of PPP was at least 5 per cent re-audit of provisional census results. “We will ensure a conclusion in the meeting,” he added. He also said that though the government had abused his party for not supporting the bill yet “we will show commitment to the constitution and federation.”

The government has criticised the PPP for not supporting the constitutional amendment bill in the Senate, seeking fresh delimitation of constituencies and reallocation of seats of legislatures. The government says that the delay in the passage of bill from the Senate would jeopardise in-time holding of next general elections.

Giving his remarks on the Faizabad sit-in, Aitzaz Ahsan lashed out at leadership of the TLYRA for using abusive language during their over 20-day long protest and said that the sit-in had exposed faces of some religious leaders. ”This was a new aspect of protest sit-in as it was purely on the religious matter called by a religious party,” he said. But this sit-in has exposed many secretes and had fallen many curtains, he said.

Condemning the role of the PML-N government while dealing with the protestors, he said: “the government had been conceding its space and surrendering from its authority.” The government has surrendered the space for which the people get agitated. The biggest concession the government made in the agreement with the TLYRA leadership to end the sit-in was the appreciation of the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, he viewed. “For God’s sake take care of this space,” he advised the government and added that the ruling PML-N was giving a message that perhaps the system was being rolled out. “But our helplessness is that we want to stand by you,” he said.

He said that the government was giving a wrong expression that a conspiracy was being thatched against it as it was enjoying government in the centre and two provinces. He criticised the participation of Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit held in Istanbul and questioned why PM did not accompany the other chief ministers for the summit. While giving the reason of the only participation of CM Punjab, he said Istanbul was only a stepping stone and their real destination was London. “You (government) have done nothing in OIC and you are holding private meetings in London at the expense of national exchequer,” he said

Ahsan also criticised the vandalism of lawyers in Multan and said that the incident had disgraced the dignity of legal fraternity. “Their behaviour was very inappropriate,” he said.

Taking part in the debate, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar called for judicial probe into the Faizabad’s dharna that culminating in what he termed a one-page “national document of surrender” that set up a dangerous template to hold state and society hostage by a gun and stick wielding mob of few hundreds.

“On that day something profound happened and Pakistan ceased to be the country that was before,” he added. The state surrender on Nov 25 before the mob will only give additional handle to our adversaries to claim that nuclear assets were unsafe and could be hijacked by a few thousand armed people, he said.

The stage for surrender was set by the statement on the eve of operation that seemed to equate the legitimately elected government with the stick wielding unruly mob engaged in a legitimate contest.

The question before us is whether we accept defeat for all times or we take it as one of the low points in our history, overcome it and move on, he said.

Babar said it needs to be probed as to how the protesters came all the way from Lahore unhindered, how they sustained in Islamabad for three weeks, who negotiated the terms of surrender and why some appeared to be rewarded with cash at the end of the dharna.

It also needs to be investigated whether it was an isolated incident or the strange events of the past weeks in Karachi, Islamabad, Faizabad and in Lahore were interconnected in some ways, he said.

PML-N Senator Ghous Bukhsh Niazi said that religion was used for the sit-in and asked for formation of a committee to probe the remarks of Justice Shaukat Siddqui of the Islamabad High Curt about the sit-in.

Another PML-N Senator Saud Majeed termed the sit-ins a conspiracy against ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif which according to him started from Model Town massacre.

Despite criticism by senators on the army for its role to finalise an agreement with the protestors, PTI Senator John Williams defended the role of the military to end sit-in and added this was done on the request of federal government. He said no army chief could ask to fire bullets on his own people and this is what Gen. Qamar Bajwa did in this particular case. However, Senator Farhatullah Babar questioned how army was using violence in operation Raddul Fasaad. “It is inconceivable to engage in operation like Raddul Fasaad without the state using violence”, he said.

ANP Senator Shahi Syed proposed the chairman Senate to chalk out a strategy along with Speaker National Assembly, COAS and chief justice of Pakistan to deal with the challenges confronting the country on both internal and external fronts.

MQM-P Senator Nighat Mirza said that Faizabad sit-in was part of the strategy of the government itself which back fired. She alleged that when the government failed to control the mob which it had sent to Islamabad through a well-thought plan, it linked it with agencies wrongly.

Referring to a statement by Speaker National Assembly saying that the current assemblies may not complete their term, she said  the NA Speaker, who was supposed to be custodian of the house, had completely ‘surrendered’.

This prompted Chairman Rabbani to say that the NA speaker has not surrendered rather all political forces were united to protect the sanctity of parliament, rule of law and the constitution.   

Chairman Senate Mia Raza Rabbani also observed that religion must not be used for political purposes. The interior minister would conclude the debate on Monday.