–Opp not interested in govt’s offer as military courts end tenure on Saturday
ISLAMABAD: There has been no headway in talks between the government and opposition over the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) days after Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi requested the major parties, once again, to discuss the anti-terror strategy, including the extension of the military courts.
After it started a crackdown on militant outfits, the federal government invited the parliamentary leaders for talks on NAP on March 28; however, the offer was snubbed by both major parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Subsequently, the foreign minister, on behalf of the prime minister, offered the opposition once again for talks on the issue and also offered that he was willing to brief the entire parliament instead of just parliamentary leaders. But the opposition since then has been silent on the issue.
The situation gets more complicated as National Assembly Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif is all set to leave for London in the next few days. In his absence, it would be highly unlikely for the PML-N to become part of negotiations.
Pakistan Today reached out to key leaders of both PML-N and PPP.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman and PML-N leaders Mushahidullah Khan and Marriyum Aurangzeb refused to comment on talks with the government over NAP.
“PPP is in no rush to make a decision,” sources within PPP told Pakistan Today, adding that a decision regarding NAP talks would be made during a Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting of the party on April 3.
However, they expressed concerns over political developments concerning the PML-N leadership.
“The party leadership is concerned over the new developments taking place at the political level. The rumours and subsequent media statements from federal government and PML-N leaders suggest that something’s afoot,” a PPP leader said, asking not to be named.
“Rumours are rife that a deal is being negotiated to let the Sharif family off the hook in lieu for a plea bargain with NAB [National Accountability Bureau]. The PPP leadership feels that perhaps a repeat of 2001 deal is taking place, keeping the PPP leadership in the dark, so we have to rethink our strategy,” the party leader said.
The PPP leader said that perhaps this was the reason that the tone of party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was not “that strong” on Saturday despite the fact that the premier had directly attacked PPP’s stronghold by holding a public meeting in Ghotki, Sindh.
When approached, a PML-N leader on condition of anonymity, said the PML-N has not changed its stance. “The party wants a briefing from the prime minister himself rather than his representative,” he said, adding that no one is entitled to communicate on behalf of the leader of the house.
Another PML-N leader said that no one in the party knew what was going on and that the Sharif family was keeping their cards close to the chest.
“No one, but Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif know what is going on. We don’t know if any deal is being negotiated,” he said.
The PTI government needs the PML-N and PPP’s support for extension in the tenure of military courts that ended on March 30, 2019. The courts were established in 2015, in the aftermath of the Army Public School (APS) attack that had killed over 140 people, mostly children, to carry out swift justice in cases pertaining to terrorism.
In 2017, the PPP initially opposed the extension in tenure but eventually supported the PML-N-moved amendment. The bill was passed overwhelmingly by the National Assembly.
However, this time it is PTI, which is on very poor terms with the opposition, given the initiation of accountability proceedings against the major politicians. And it needs a two-third majority to pass the bill. In addition, the government is already struggling with the formation of standing committees of the National Assembly.
Whereas, PPP is again opposing the bill. Its chairman Bilawal has publicly opposed any extension in the tenure of army-run courts. Bilawal had said he would vehemently oppose the extension of military courts as he had chided parliament for its role in renewing the courts’ tenure.
PML-N, on the other hand, has decided to keep mum over the issue for now. Its spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb in a TV show stated that the party hadn’t taken up the matter at that point.
The military says it is in the government’s hands to extend the tenure.
ISPR DG Major General Asif Ghafoor in a TV interview had said that the court disposed of 646 cases of total 717 since 2015.
“The military courts have awarded 345 convicts death sentences while 296 have been handed various sentences,” the spokesperson had said.