ISLAMABAD - At a time when the nation needs political unity to safely navigate through the turbulent waters, the two major political parties of the country are engaged in petty politics for their vested interests.

Being out of power for over a decade, the main opposition party at the centre (PML-N) has now a single item on its agenda – general elections at the earliest possible time.

Similar is the case of the ruling PPP which is obsessed about dividing the provinces – particularly the Punjab, where PML-N is now in power – so it could secure maximum political advantage in the upcoming elections.

The parliamentary commission for formation of new provinces in Punjab in its first meeting on Tuesday elected PPP’s Senator Farhatullah Babar as its chairman. PML-N members were absent from the meeting as the party has rejected the panel due to “certain reservations”.

Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Ch Nisar Ali Khan said the government and allied parties were not sincere in making new provinces but doing politics on this issue. “They are sadly mistaken that by raising the slogan of new provinces they could befool people”, he added.

During a news conference here, Ch Nisar termed the existing panel as ‘ Zardari Commission’ and demanded formation of a national commission. He also said that his party was “devoting its entire attention on free and fair elections” and they have shortlisted eight to nine names for a caretaker prime minister – none of them from Punjab.

Meanwhile, amid the boycott by the PML-N and absence of two members from the Punjab Assembly, the commission formed for carving out new provinces in Punjab elected Senator Farhatullah Babar as its chairman in its maiden meeting held at Parliament House.

National Assembly speaker had constituted 14-member panel which was to include six members from Senate and National Assembly each, and two members from the Punjab Assembly. Punjab Assembly speaker was asked to nominate two MPAs, one each from treasury and opposition.

But, instead of nominating members, the provincial speaker said that as the matter pertains to carving out two more provinces out of Punjab therefore they should be given double representation (4 members) in the said body. He forewarned that if his demand was not met, he would move the superior courts against the said commission.

The chairmanship of Babar, who is otherwise considered a dove among his party ranks, has become controversial. His name for the slot was floated by MNA Jamshaid Dasti and Senator Kamil Ali Aga and as there was no opposition from any member on his candidature he was declared successful.

Others who participate in the inaugural session of the commission were: Kamil Ali Agha, Sughra Imam, Aziz Sheikh, Abdul Ghafoor Hyderi, Farooq Sattar, Hyder Abbas Rizvi, Musa Ali Gilani and Haji Adeel. Ms Tehmina Daultana, Saud Majid and Senator Rafique Rajwana of PML-N abstained from participating.

Defending their abstention, PML-N leadership said they were not taken into confidence while formation of the commission and their MPs from NA and Senate were selected by the speaker herself, instead of following the set procedure of seek the names from the Leader of Opposition.

Talking to media persons outside the Parliament House after the meeting, Farhatullah Babar said that they would forward all issues regarding creation of new province in Punjab with consensus. He urged the PML-N leaders to attend the meeting of the panel in “national interest”.

Being chairman of the commission, he said, he would fully endeavour to fulfil his responsibility. He said that during the meeting, the commission urged the PML-N members to attend the next meeting of the commission in which its all reservations would be removed. He said commission would meet on Wednesday (today) also to form its rules and regulations.

On the occasion, MQM leader Farooq Sattar said that it was the historic opportunity that the commission had started its formal work. He said this opportunity should not be wasted, and he also urged the PML-N to join the commission “because it was a national issue”.

Farooq said that the commission was given task to remove hurdles being created in the way of creation of new Seraiki province. He assured the people that the commission would leave no stone unturned for creation of new provinces. Jamshed Dasti said that all deprivations and problems being faced by people of Punjab for last 64 years would be removed through creation of new provinces.

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly questioning the composition of the commission said that opposition should be given matching representation to the treasury in the commission and set procedure for nominating the members in the commission should be adopted.

Ch Nisar said the allied government was not sincere in forming new provinces but creating a spectacle. On the contrary, he said, his party was serious about creating new administrative units – be they in Punjab, Hazara or Fata – and for that a national commission was required.

“How could press secretary to President Zardari Senator Babar who himself belongs to KPK province and has been selected chairman of the so-called parliamentary commission could create new provinces in Punjab?“ Will the division of Punjab would be decided by Babar, Haji Adeel and Faroooq Sattar, he asked.

Nisar said he had no contact with Syed Khursheed Shah for the last two months. He said that the formation of new provinces was the responsibility of the assemblies and the government had no constitutional role to play in it.

Talking to the media at the Parliament House Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khurshid Shah regretted the boycott of the PML-N and said the government would try to persuade them. However, if they did not agree, the commission would go ahead with its task as JUI-F’s Abdul Ghafoor Haideri was there as representative of opposition.

To a question about Manzoor Wasan’s statement on the next elections, Khurshid said that it was his personal viewpoint. He added that assembly’s term would end on March 18 and then an interim setup would come in. However, he said, with the consultations of allies, elections could be held a month or two earlier than scheduled.

About the elections, Nisar said that his party has picked out nine names for a caretaker prime minister, including retired judges and senior politicians; however, no one of them is from Punjab. Moreover, he said no retired general or bureaucrat has been included in the list. He said that PML-N would soon convene a meeting to finalise the nominations after taking on board opposition parties both in and outside parliament including Jammt-e-Islami, PTI and nationalists’ parties.

Sources said the PML-N Tuesday night had initiated consultation with other opposition parties on the issue. Party sources informed The Nation that the list of over half a dozen names were shortlisted after threadbare discussion between PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and Ch Nisar.

They told that the names are: Mir Balkh Sher Mazari, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Ali Ahmad Kurd, Justice(r) Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui, Justice Sardar Raza Khan, Justice(r) Amirulmulk Mangal, Justice(r) and Rasheed A Rizvi.

Nisar alleged that the government has already started pre-poll rigging as two to four billion rupees have been channelised while four billion rupees more would be taken out of the national exchequer for this purpose. He also alleged that President Zardari had bought off anchors from TV channels for this purpose. He urged the Election Commission to take notice of this rigging.

The opposition leader said the PML-N would issue a White Paper on the assets of Imran Khan. It was the PML-N which forced Imran Khan to declare his assets and now when the cat is out of the bag, the PTI chief should be ready to answer more questions. He said Imran will have to tell the nation as to how he made these assets.

He alleged that Imran did not mention these assets while filing his tax returns in the past eight years. He will also have to explain how he constructed the Islamabad house with millions rupees. To a question, Nisar said if the government was to write letter to Swiss officials, it should have done earlier and not put the country in crisis.