ISLAMABAD -  As the upper house has constituted itself into a committee comprising the entire 104-member strength of Senate, the left-leaning Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani, according to his colleagues, is vulnerable to invite ire of institutions that he wants to appear before the committee for questioning.

The powerful committee, dubbed as first of its kind in parliamentary history of the country, on Wednesday held its first meeting in the Senate hall under the chair of Raza Rabbani with lawmakers calling for drastic reforms in judiciary, police and bringing intelligence agencies under the ambit of law. Taking part in the debate regarding ‘speedy and inexpensive justice’, Farhatullah Babar said the 104-member powerful committee must take up the issue of enforced disappearances in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. “Any talk of speedy justice will be meaningless unless we first address this area where there is no window for justice. Our intelligence agencies must satisfy the committee and trace the whereabouts of the missing persons,” Babar stressed.

Lawmakers even talked about the need for legislation regarding appointment of judges, establishment of Supreme Courts for each province and limiting the Supreme Court for hearing issues limited to only federal constitutional matters.

The powerful committee known as ‘Committee of the Whole’ is empowered to summon any person for questioning or ask for any government record to help its members. Besides, the committee has the power to require the attendance of any person or summon production of papers, records from any division, department, autonomous body, semiautonomous body or organization, or examine such persons on oath or solemn affirmation, or invite or summon any person to give evidence in relation to any matter under its consideration.

As the committee will send its recommendations to Ministry of Law and Human Rights for implementation once the members compile the list of needed reforms, some Senators intend to curtail the powers of Supreme Court regarding suo motu actions. Background discussions with some senior Senators revealed that the step taken by Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani regarding taking up of public petitions by the upper house, will force the leftist Chairman Rabbani to walk a tightrope keeping in view the powerful institutions he wants to meddle in. While some Senators laud the role of Chairman regarding his attempt to reform the institutions where justice is denied to general public, there are lawmakers who think Rabbani has unleashed Senate activism which they foresee to be shaping up into the judicial activism started by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary. “Raza Rabbani seems to be ambitious. He wants to be distinguished by making Senate a totally different platform from its past tradition. The problem is whether he will withstand the pressure of the institutions he wants to make them answerable?” a senior Senator said.

This is why some Senators indirectly disapproved the idea of drastic reforms in judicial system as PML-N Senator Lt Gen (retired) Abdul Qayum reminded the committee particularly Chairman Rabbani whether the 8,000 individuals who were granted amnesty through a controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) would be brought to justice.

But there were lawmakers like Farhatuulah Babar who sounded to be more interested in taming the intelligence agencies more than the country’s judiciary. According to the Commission on Enforced Disappearances, sufficient evidence existed that agencies had apprehended a number of missing persons, Babar said insisting the secret agencies must be brought under the ambit of law. As the lawmakers touched sensitive issues and used words that would be otherwise expunged by Chairman Senate during proceedings of the house, Senators showered praise on Rabbani for making the upper house a different house from its past customs.

But there was an advice from Senators for Rabbani not to be too fast in his reforms agenda keeping in view the recent past as one lawmaker said, “Running too fast behind the best sometimes results in tumbling over the better”. Even PPP’s Senator who talked to this correspondent did not look impressed with the activism of Chairman Senate who said Rabbani had himself resorted to taking suo motu action by opening the Senate to public for submitting petitions. “The question is that how can you make Senate a ‘public court’ when it is a legislative body. It means that members of National Assembly are doing nothing for their constituents and only Senators are left to hear public petitions. The move can give popularity to Mian Sahib for a short time but it is not the solution,” a PPP Senator who did not participate in Wednesday’s debate asserted.